3.2.1. A Reduction of the Ivorian Forest Cover in Favour of Crops
Map data analysis showed a reduction of forest cover against an increase of cultivated areas mainly represented by cocoa trees, between 1985 and 2019. In the 1980s, the highest deforestation rate was observed (−60%) in eastern of Ivory Coast when this region was the epicentre of the country’s cocoa production. After the introduction of cocoa in 1955 [28
] in the South-East of Ivory Coast, the cocoa economy has continued to develop through the establishment of cocoa farms in an extensive mode through shifting cultivation on forest clearings [12
]. Availability of forest stand, immigration policy and attractive remunerative prices favoured extensive development of cocoa farming in this period [11
Due to the forest decline, the cocoa epicentre was moved from the East to the Centre-West. The availability of different parks and reserves as well as Classified Forests contributed to the presence of an important cocoa producers in this region. The maximal colonization was of the Marahoué National Park and Bouaflé Classified Forests in the Centre-West if Ivory Coast is an illustrative example. Furthermore, the proximity of Centre-West region with the first epicentre of cocoa production makes them an ideal destination of cocoa producers looking for new forest lands.
The low reduction of forest area in the South-West in 1985 compared to the East and Centre-West of Ivory Coast could be justified by the fact the South-West was relatively unfavourable due to the thick forest cover covering this area and the landlocked nature of the region.
Implementation of new infrastructure such as the bridges over the Sassandra River represent also an important factor promoting access and circulation of agricultural products in this region [29
]. Additionally, industrial wood exploitation favoured construction of different roads in the Southwest and also facilitated the transport of agricultural products [30
]. The construction of the Kossou and Buyo dams also facilitated population moving and relocation from central Ivory Coast to the southwest. Different agricultural activities of this population participated significantly in the initial forest cover deforestation [31
The low rate of forest reduction observed during the period 1985–1988 in the mountainous western region could be justified, first, by the lack of development of the cocoa economy in this area and, second, due to the rugged topography marked by the presence of many mountains in this region.
Between 2002 and 2019, crop areas were increased by 720.28% in the western part of Ivory Coast while forest cover decreased due to the cocoa farming extension. During the period 2000, lack of cultivable land, ageing of orchards and the proliferation of diseases in cocoa plantations in the third epicentre of cocoa production entailed significant migration of producers to the West of the country [15
]. This region characterized by a rugged topography with many mountains seems not to be predisposed to cocoa production. Moreover, the socio-political crisis experienced by Ivory Coast between 2002 and 2011 encouraged cocoa producer migration to the West of the country. The western region was under the control of military forces rebelling against government authority. Thus, due to the insecurity, the monitoring of the parks and the Classified Forests of this region was not operational [32
]. This situation occasioned an anarchic colonization of these ecosystems by the populations [33
]. After this colonization, the natural forests were destroyed for crops production occasioning increase of cultivated areas.
However, the end of the conflicts in 2011 entailed an eviction of producers previously occupying West and Central West forests (e.g., Classified Forest of Cavally, Goin-Débé, Haut Dodo, the national parks of Mont Péko and Mont Sangbé, etc.).
These evicted populations settled in rural areas around the state-owned areas, exploiting the forest reserves of these regions. However, the proximity of evicted cocoa farmers to protected areas in western Ivory Coast is an indicator of the impending infiltration of protected areas in the region.
Despite cocoa production is not frequent in savannah ecosystems, it was observed in western region of Ivory Coast. Although this practice has already been reported in Cameroon by [34
] and in the pre-forest region of central Ivory Coast [35
], it remains marginal and poorly developed in the various Ivorian cocoa production epicentres.
The recovery of forest areas observed in 2000 and 2019 in the former epicentres of cocoa production, for the Centre-West and South-West is largely due to the presence of perennial tree crops such as rubber and teak as well as industrial oil palm crops. In addition to these crops, there are old cocoa orchards and non-producing cocoa trees transformed into old fallow land whose profiles are similar to those of secondary forests, and which have thus been Classified as Forests.
All the statistics showed that the colonization of a new production area is generally due to the depletion of the forest resources in the previous one. They also show that the cocoa economy in Ivory Coast is dynamic.
3.2.2. A Cocoa Economy in the West Governed by Internal Migration
Survey data analysis showed a dominance of producers under 45 years of age in the department of Biankouman reflecting the strong involvement of youth in this region. The same observation was made by [19
] in Taï region and [36
] in Lakota region where they found that cocoa production is largely run by young people. Also, according to [37
], setting up a cocoa plantation is laborious and requires an active workforce.
The majority (53%) of cocoa farmers in the new production region of the west Ivory Coast are not indigenous demonstrating presence of significant population migrations for cocoa production since 2000. Similar observations were pointed out by [38
] and [36
] in the former cocoa-producing areas of the South-West, East and Centre-West where cocoa production was dominated by non-indigenous populations. This migration is caused by different factors: (i) low productivity due to the ageing of plantations [3
], (ii) replanting problems in the former West and South-West loops and (iii) increasing scarcity of suitable forest land for cocoa production in the former loops [39
]. The West Ivorian mountainous area still has several forest islands [16
] and is, therefore, under attack by cocoa producers.
Analysis of the settlement periods of migrant cocoa farmers in western Ivory Coast indicates that cocoa farming is recent in the study area. Specifically, cocoa farming has been booming in western Ivory Coast since the 2000s, with a large number of farmers settling at the beginning of the last decade. This observation is confirmed by the preponderance of cocoa farmers under 15 years of age in the department. Historically, infiltration into protected areas in Ivory Coast has been mainly carried out by populations not originating from the areas concerned. For example, the findings of [37
] in the southern part of the Haut-Sassandra Classified Forest and in the Mont Péko National Park by [42
] revealed that these protected areas were infiltrated mainly by people of Burkinabe origin. The same is true of most of the protected areas in the South-West of the country.
The average surface area of plantations in the West of Ivory Coast which is 3.5 ha is almost identical to the average surface area of cocoa farms in the former epicentres. However, these areas remain significantly lower than the average cocoa area of 10.9 ha observed in the first cocoa production epicentre in eastern Ivory Coast [38
]. There are several reasons for this decline in cocoa area, including the scarcity of forest and the boom in cocoa cultivation in West Africa [43
]. Furthermore, these reduced areas could indicate a slowdown in the expansion of cocoa production in the face of the scarcity of forest areas.
3.2.3. The Need to Learn from the Experiences of Former Cocoa-Producing Epicentres
Analysis carried out in this study showed that the epicentres of the cocoa economy are shifting over time. It is estimated by [44
] that this shift has been linked to the cocoa life cycle over several decades. According to the same author [44
], this shift follows a drop in production linked to deforestation corresponding to the consumption of forest, the development of insect and disease attacks, the life cycle and, therefore, the aging of plantations with a decrease in yields at constant maintenance levels and the decline in the labour force [44
]. The risks associated with these epicentres displacements are environmental, economic, socio-cultural and political [11
]. Considering the environmental point, the elements of risk are the depletion of the forest and the decrease in rainfall making replanting of cocoa trees impossible. At the economic level, the instability of markets associated with the drop in income leads to limited access to rural credit and, therefore, inaccessibility to agricultural inputs. These risks are exacerbated by threats of political instability that have led to armed conflict in Ivory Coast [32
]. Finally, all these elements increase socio-cultural risks, including land conflicts in the different cocoa production epicentres [28
]. Taking into account different problems of old cocoa production epicentre, it is therefore useful to define adequate measure in order to prevent future risks in the new production area in western Ivory Coast. Thus, the concentration of non-native farmers in western localities and on the periphery of protected areas should be monitored with particular attention in order to avoid the almost irreversible degradation of protected areas in this region, as was observed in the last two cocoa production epicentres [35
Furthermore, it would seem useful to change the different cultivation practices observed in the last two epicentres of Centre-Western and Western Ivory Coast, where non-native populations, most often from Sahelian countries, do not associate trees with their cocoa trees during the production phases. Principal reasons for this attitude are due to the lack of knowledge of the domestic uses of local plants by these populations and the non-application of good agricultural practices [45
]. Agroforestry appear as an adequate solution that would make it possible to ensure the sustainability of cocoa farming in Ivory Coast, as already suggested by [39
]. In addition, research should also prohibit the extension of the results of cocoa seeds that do not tolerate the shade created by the presence of trees on the farm.
However, the scarcity of the forest due to the pressure on this resource is leading cocoa farmers to adapt to the new environmental conditions by recolonizing old fallows as observed in the first and second cocoa epicentres (Figure 3
). In this way, a return of the cocoa economy to these former abandoned areas can be expected. In addition, image analyses coupled with field observations have shown that populations do not continue to establish cocoa farming in the pre-forest savannahs of western Ivory Coast as [16
]. Even if the results are still too recent to better appreciate them, this practice, if successful, would also make it possible to carry out cocoa production in the savannas included in the forest regions or in the entire pre-forest regions of Ivory Coast. All these practices would help to make cocoa production in Ivory Coast sustainable and generate substantial income for the State and improve the living conditions of the farming populations.