By NBF News

WITH the right mix of fertiliser and agrochemical, coupled with improved crop husbandry in West Africa, it is possible to increase the yields of cocoa and cassava without deforestation that is now threatening the ecosystem in the sub-region, a group of researchers has said.     The researchers from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture

(IITA), Ibadan, discovered farms could be spared roughly two million hectares of tropical forest from being cleared or severely degraded with the increase in the use of fertiliser on cocoa timber. On the average, farmers are using less than four kilogram of total nutrients per hectare in the region.                .

The study suggests that farmers could have achieved the same outputs without rampant deforestation, through the intensified use of fertiliser and

agrochemicals, coupled with improved crop husbandry.

According to IITA, the farmers could have doubled their income and avoided deforestation and degradation on 2.1 million hectares and in the process, would have generated a value of over $1,600 million on 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions that would not have come from deforestation.

The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Management said low-input farming for cocoa, cassava and oil palm has resulted in widespread deforestation and degredation of West Africa's tropical forest area.

Cocoa production in West Africa is an important commercial sector and a source of livelihoods for about two million households in the region. For the last 20 years, Côte d'Ivoire has been the largest producer, in terms of output and numbers of producers, followed by Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroun. These countries are now accounting for 70 per cent of global cocoa supply.               .

According to the study, cocoa production in West Africa's Guinean Rainforest region doubled between 1987 and 2007, but most of this increase was fueled by clearing forest areas, resulting in large losses of biodiversity and high carbon emissions.

The Guinean Rainforest (GRF) of West Africa, identified over 20 years ago as a global biodiversity hotspot, had reduced to 113,000 km2 at the start of the new millennium, which was 18 per cent of its original area, according to the report.

The principal driver of this environmental change has been the expansion of low-input smallholder agriculture that depends on environmentally destructive practices like slash-and-burn and land clearing.

The findings should be taken into consideration in discussions around efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation, say researchers. Instead of considering complicated strategies involving monetary or in-kind transfers to farmers or communities for altering their land use behaviour.

The researchers said that REDD funds could be used as incentives and to promote agricultural intensification efforts that would lead to higher rural incomes, greater food security, and avoided emissions through the achievement of higher agricultural yields.

According to the reports, there are more frontiers forests in West Africa for future generations to exploit.

It said strategies to reduce deforestation and conserve biodiversity in West Africa must focus on transforming agricultural practices from traditional to modern science-based methods.

According to the authors, funding support for reducing carbon emissions due to deforestation and degradation (REDD) to mitigate climate change as discussed in the Copenhagen Accord offers the potential of significant new public resources for needed investments in agricultural research.

The value of avoided CO2 emissions is conservatively estimated at $565 per hectare for achieving the envisaged doubling of yields. A significant proportion of REDD+ funding should be used to increase the adoption and level of fertilizer use in a 'fertilisers for forest' mitigation programme, the researchers said.