A few years ago, Syamsuddin, a cocoa farmer on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, began noticing that rainy seasons were growing shorter and dry spells longer—and that his crops were suffering as a result. “I had more failing (cocoa) flowers, more pests and (plant) diseases. Some of the diseases were new. I hadn’t seen them before.”
At first Syamsuddin (who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name only) assumed that weather patterns would eventually return to normal. But as one of 8,000 Sulawesian smallholder cocoa farmers participating in a climate-smart program of the Rainforest Alliance and Olam Indonesia (under Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia), Syamsuddin soon came to understand the new reality of a changing climate, and the urgent need to adapt his farming practices.
Studies suggest that Indonesia’s climate will continue to become more extreme in the coming years, with water shortages highly likely to affect South Sulawesi. Drought can weaken cocoa trees and make them more susceptible to pest and disease; both maladies are forecast to increase up to 45 percent in the region. In Sulawesi, cocoa bean yields could drop by as much as 62 percent—which makes it all the more critical that farmers like Syamsuddin learn and apply climate-smart methods now.
At the Rainforest Alliance's trainings, Syamsuddin and the other farmers learned that the synthetic fertilizers they commonly use contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, potentially worsening the weather problems currently challenging their crops. Syamsuddin now collects his organic farm waste and composts, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. He has also begun using mahogany leaves and other medicinal forest plants to naturally combat pests and diseases. He plants leguminous cover crops to help improve soil nutrient content and soil structure, and digs trenches to control excessive rainwater.
A common misconception among farmers is that shade trees steal water and nutrients from cocoa bushes, so these trees are often cut down; during climate-smart training, farmers learn that the right kind of shade trees on cocoa plots can help minimize the impact of drought, heat, and excessive rainfall. As a result, Syamsuddin has begun planting such shade trees on his land.
Syamsuddin has not only changed the way he farms, but has also begun to share his new knowledge with fellow farmers. His advice to them is, “Be patient, keep learning.” He adds, “If farmers tire of dealing with these (climate-related) problems and give up, there won’t be any chocolate in the future.”