A women cocoa farmer in San Pedro de Urabá, Colombia, holds a cocoa tree full of poods.
Eugenia Jiménez understands the importance of conservation on her farm. | Credit: Juan Carlos Londoño

Growing for the Future: Safeguarding Coffee and Cocoa While Addressing Biodiversity and Climate Crises

By Sara Carlson, Robert Cohen

Imagine waking up to a world without your morning cup of coffee or being able to enjoy your favorite chocolate. Unthinkable, right? But the “twin crises” of biodiversity loss and climate change threaten these everyday ingredients — and the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers who grow them.  

HEARTH (Health, Ecosystems, and Agriculture for Resilient, Thriving Societies) is a collaborative public–private partnership approach to sustainable development initiated by USAID that seeks to address biodiversity loss and climate change while supporting the livelihoods of local communities. 

Together, USAID and partners such as Olam Food Ingredients, Mars and Nespresso have invested approximately $47 million across four cocoa and coffee projects worldwide. These projects aim to equip farmers with the right tools and training to transition to more sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture techniques while improving livelihoods. The following key ingredients are at the core of HEARTH’s approach.

Empowering Farmers to Decarbonize and Conserve Biodiversity 

Agroforestry, a land management practice that involves planting additional trees alongside cocoa and coffee, offers shade and biodiversity and carbon capture benefits. That means farmers are learning to lower carbon emissions while providing habitat for biodiversity and boosting agricultural productivity.

For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, farmers grew 65,000 shade tree seedlings in local nurseries and managed and maintained the trees once planted. This is part of an integrated approach to support the coffee-growing communities of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park area to prevent deforestation and poaching in one of the world's largest forests.

In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, HEARTH is working to strengthen Land Management Boards to improve community participation, giving 15,000 cocoa farmers more agency over land management decisions that affect their livelihoods. 

Tailoring Support for Women

Women can be catalysts for more sustainable communities and healthier families, but many face barriers like culturally ingrained gender roles or a lack of training. HEARTH is addressing these issues in Papua New Guinea via a pilot project, which helps over 500 female farmers to diversify their incomes by learning new skills like vegetable gardening. A specialized nongovernmental organization, Femili PNG, has also conducted outreach with local men to address gender inequality and gender-based violence.

Safeguarding Incomes

Farmers cannot be asked to switch to more sustainable practices if it means a hit to their incomes. They need the right agricultural inputs and technical know-how to professionalize their farms in a way that works for them and the surrounding landscape. 

HEARTH is working with 9,000 farmers in South and Southeast Sulawesi provinces in Indonesia to adapt to climate change and sustainably manage their cocoa farms, aiming to increase incomes from sustainable cocoa by 15 percent while eliminating an estimated 650,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from deforestation. In Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara Province, HEARTH will support 6,500 cocoa and coffee farmers to improve their yields by 25 percent while conserving 14,000 hectares of the watershed and riparian buffers by the end of 2025.

Conducting Rigorous Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning

Successfully achieving HEARTH’s desired results requires rigorous measurement and an openness to learning what’s working, why, and for whom. The HEARTH Monitoring and Evaluation Toolkit is being used across the HEARTH portfolio to measure whether the HEARTH partnerships are synergistically achieving both human wellbeing and conservation outcomes. The HEARTH Learning Agenda identifies key research and learning questions that are being studied through mixed-method evaluations and other research projects in partnership with academic institutions. 

Partnering for Change

HEARTH’s holistic approach supports communities in sustainable cocoa and coffee production landscapes to increase incomes while reducing carbon emissions and protecting biodiversity in nearby biodiverse landscapes. 

The next time we sip our morning coffee or indulge in a piece of chocolate, we can remember that it is not only about satisfying our taste buds but also supporting a sustainable future for farmers and our planet.

This blog was originally published by Agrilinks

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Mitigation
Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Biodiversity Conservation, Food Security, Gender and Social Inclusion, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Land, Sustainable Land Management, Mitigation, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Sara Carlson

Sara Carlson is a Senior Biodiversity Advisor at USAID in the Biodiversity Division, where she has worked since 2012. She leads efforts to integrate scientific research and evidence throughout USAID’s biodiversity programming, with a focus on bridging the “research-implementation gap.” Sara’s work at USAID also focuses on the linkages between food security and biodiversity conservation and how to design development programs and policies that conserve nature while supporting the food security and nutrition of the people who depend on it. A plant evolutionary biologist by training, Sara holds a PhD from Yale University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Robert Cohen

Robert Cohen works for USAID's Bureau for Global Health

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