September 9th, 2022
A new documentary created by the Trade, Development and Environment Hub (TRADE Hub), led by UNEP-WCMC, gives perspectives from Cameroonian farmers about the increasing global demand for sustainably produced agricultural commodities, as Western governments look to transition towards deforestation-free imports into large consumer markets.
The 18-minute film, shot in March 2022, is a call to action to critically assess current public and private policies on deforestation-free supply chains, at national and international levels, to ensure that smallholders are consulted and engaged in formulation and implementation of sustainability initiatives. Another strong message is the need to ensure that farmers get fair economic returns for their produce, without which sustainability transitions will be impossible.
The film is produced by award-winning filmmakers What Took You So Long? and takes audiences through a journey over Cameroon’s Central Region. The film focuses on cocoa farmers in the municipality of Mbangassina, where cocoa production is the main source of income for 70% of households, as well as oil palm smallholder farmers in the town of Ndoupe, where small plantations are expanding, together with an increase in artisanal oil palm mills.
The film also highlights opinions from a range of stakeholders in Cameroon, including researchers in the TRADE Hub and representatives from ministries and non-governmental organisations. These individuals provide background on the Cameroonian government’s ambitions of increasing commodity production, as well as potential solutions for decreasing deforestation while improving farmer income and wellbeing.
Sustainable and profitable cocoa production possible in Cameroon
“[We know] the benefits of the forest even better than you, and when we destroy the forest, it’s not in a voluntary way… we do it for survival reasons,” says Nkoulou Wong, a cocoa entrepreneur and leader in the Simplified Cooperative Society of Agripreneurs for the Centre Region, who features in the documentary.
Recent research supported by the TRADE Hub (Sassen et al. 2022) details that large areas of rainforest still remain in Cameroon when compared to cocoa production giants such as Ghana and Côte d′Ivoire, where most forest cover with rich biodiversity has already been lost. However, these remaining forest areas in Cameroon are at high risk of being converted to cash crops such as cocoa or oil palm. This will also mean the loss of ecosystem services like water quality and microclimate regulation for local communities, according to further TRADE Hub research led by Dr. Mody Ayompe Lacour, who also speaks in the documentary.
However, Cameroon presents a good opportunity for a feasible transition towards sustainable cocoa production landscapes, as agroforestry is widely practiced in the country. For example, crops like cocoa are grown under diverse shade-providing trees that enhance ecosystem services such as good soil fertility, while habitats for biodiversity.
Providing smallholders with the support that they need
As the documentary shows, smallholders often do not receive the resources and training they need to maintain such optimal production practices, rather relying on techniques that have been passed down from parent to child. While incorporating traditional knowledge, if farmers were supported to intensify yields and modernise certain practices, there remain myriad opportunities to make a step change towards equitable and sustainable supply chains for commodities.
The documentary also discusses certification – the practice of assessing whether a product has met sustainability standards developed by the private or public sector – and asserts that it should not be touted as the primary solution for procuring deforestation-free commodities from countries like Cameroon. Rather, certification must be part of a hybrid government-private sector strategy involving regulation as well as market-based approaches, placing local smallholders at the heart of the solution.
What about oil palm in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Additionally, while internationally traded commodities such as cocoa could be governed and regulated to some extent through its link to an international consumer market, oil palm presents its own set of deforestation challenges, as it’s grown for a domestic market that is not governed by sustainability considerations. Most of the palm oil produced in Africa is consumed within the continent, with local demand surpassing supply. “Certification standards designed for countries in Asia and South America, with associated benefits, will not necessarily work for African countries. This is not a one size fits all. We need an Africa-specific strategy and standard for certification to work”, says Dr. Benis Egoh, a Co-Investigator on the TRADE Hub and Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
The TRADE Hub’s role
As the momentum towards adopting deforestation-free supply chain regulations and mandatory due diligence builds up across consumer countries, more concerted effort is needed to address specific issues faced by smallholder farmers. The TRADE Hub in Cameroon, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Congo is working towards ensuring that perspectives of smallholders and local forest users are better represented in sustainability discussions that could impact their livelihoods and the natural ecosystems upon which they depend.
About the GCRF Trade, Development and the Environment Hub (TRADE Hub)
The Trade, Development and the Environment Hub (TRADE Hub), led by UNEP-WCMC, was established as part of a suite of hubs designed to address 12 development challenges of global significance by UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund. Researching trade in wild species and agricultural commodities, our Hub seeks to address the longstanding tension between trade-induced economic growth, environmental and social impacts, especially for vulnerable population groups. The work is supremely relevant to current global debates from farmers and forest users, through to business and finance agencies, supply chain actors and consumers and those setting national and global policy and laws. For the latest information, you can peruse our Interim Impact Report for 2021/22, and visit our website www.tradehub.earth.
About the Congo Basin Institute, Cameroon
The Congo Basin Institute is a joint initiative of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and UCLA. IITA and UCLA are leading a multi-institutional initiative to develop the Congo Basin Institute to be a model for how universities, NGOs, and private businesses can partner in international development.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Kevin Njabo, Congo Basin Institute – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Benis Egoh, University of California, Irvine (UCI) – email@example.com
Dr Marieke Sassen, Wageningen University & Research – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisen Runsten, UNEP-WCMC – email@example.com