The VITAL project – Farmers’ organizations, research and businesses harness the sustainable effects of agroecology to scale up their operations

This project focuses on the San Pedro region of Ivory Coast, home to the world’s largest cocoa port, where agroecology is underdeveloped. From 2019 to 2022, this project enabled small cocoa and market garden producers to implement agroecological and agroforestry practices. The reduction of synthetic inputs (principle 2), soil health (principle 3), economic diversity (principle 7) and the co-creation of knowledge (principle 8)  are the principles and elements of agroecology at the heart of this project.

Lead organization
  • Union Inter-Régionale des Sociétés Coopératives (UIREC) : a farmers’ organization comprising 25 cooperatives involved mainly in cocoa production. UIREC has been practicing agroforestry and agroecology for several years. The organization strengthens the economic and financial capacities of its members, and also offers training in good farming practices. UIREC is a member of the Alliance for Agroecology in West Africa.
  • French Farmers and International Development (AFDI): an international solidarity association that supports family farmers in their efforts to make a decent living from their work and ensure the next generation of farmers, both on their own farms and within farmers’ organizations.
  • Institut National Polytechnique Houphouët Boigny de Yamoussoukro (INPHB): a public institution for higher education, research and production, comprising 9 schools and located in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Société coopérative de la zone des Savanes à Bouaflé (SCZSB) : a corn producers’ cooperative.

San Pedro region of Ivory Coast.


The project started in 2019 and was completed in 2022.


Total project cost : 219 million CFA francs (approx. 335,610 EUR).

Source of funding : Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


The aim of the project was to intensify agroecological practices in order to bring economic and environmental sustainability to family farms. In particular, the aim is to experiment with appropriate agroecological practices on cocoa and maize, disseminate the results of these experiments and market the products resulting from these practices. The added value of this project lies in its collaborative experimentation , since its ambition was to actively involve rural civil society, research and producers’ organizations in the co-construction of experimentation, awareness-raising and training schemes for agro-ecological practices.


Agroecology is underdeveloped in San Pedro, the world’s largest cocoa port. The region faces extreme climatic conditions (droughts and violent winds). Soil fertility is declining due to the overuse of synthetic inputs, monoculture and intensive ploughing. The region is also facing increased deforestation due to mining, agricultural expansion (e.g., in the area of the St. Lawrence River), and the loss of forests. In 2020, 7,000 hectares of forest were cleared in the country for cocoa production (according to Mighty Earth), wood production for energy purposes and the explosion of bush fires.

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans (2 million tonnes produced per year) covering 40% of the world’s supply[1]. This contributes 15 to 20% of its GDP, employs nearly 600,000 growers and supports almost a quarter of the population. 98% of cocoa is produced by family farmers, grouped together in cooperatives which, despite some difficulties, manage to increase the resilience of producers. Given that 67% of Ivorian cocoa is consumed in Europe, communications and initiatives between the European Union and Côte d’Ivoire have been published to combat deforestation.

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans, with an annual output of around 2 million tonnes, or 40% of global supply.

Main beneficiaries

Cocoa growers (average size of cocoa plots : 2.5 hectares) and market gardeners.



  • An agrarian diagnosis and a market survey were carried out at the start of the project in 2019. These two documents highlighted a lack of maintenance of cocoa plantations, a lack of pruning of cocoa trees, a lack of adjustment of cocoa tree densities, poor application of chemical or biological fertilizers, and the presence of cocoa brown rot. This observation guided the choice of agroecological experiments to be carried out with producers, as well as the promotion of agroecological products on the market.

  • 18 experimental plots were set up with the aim of demonstrating the effectiveness of agroecological practices and training producers in these practices. In the cocoa sector, experiments focused on good cocoa farm maintenance practices (organic fertilization and density adjustment) and on agroforestry (choice of species based on their contribution to soil fertility, their ability to provide shade and the additional income they can generate (fruit, wood)). In the corn sector, conservation agriculture practices were tested (no-till and direct seeding, crop associations, biofertilizers).

  • A network of 15 animators and 40 relay farmers was created and trained to lead interventions on these plots, promote the dissemination of practices (biochar, bio-inputs, pruning, etc.) to other growers, strengthen management and good governance capacities, and better include young people within the cooperatives. Between 2020 and 2022, 3,147 hours of training were provided for UIREC members (790 men and 161 women).

  • Open days and radio broadcasts have also raised the profile of the project and of agroecological practices among the general public.

Effects and Impacts

Monitoring and Evaluation Methods


Together with INPHB researchers, the network measured the social, economic and environmental performance of these systems.

  • To assess soil health, samples were taken at the beginning and end of the project. In San Pedro, the chemical elements (NPK, carbon, etc.) of the biofertilized soil improved during the project period.
  • For the impact of training on trainees, a survey was carried out in August 2022 to estimate how many trainees (sample of 25%) put into practice the agroecological techniques acquired during training. 100% of those surveyed have implemented agroecological practices, but the survey was not precise enough to extrapolate the type of practices implemented.


Lessons learned and Results


  • Over 1,000 producers in the UIREC network have benefited from institutional and technical support.
  • Good practices on cocoa trees have resulted in an increase in productivity from 300 kilos per hectare produced annually to over 750 kilos today. 100% of respondents have increased their cocoa production between 2019 and 2021 (average increase of 7.2% between 2019 and 2020; 8% between 2020 and 2021 and 15.8% between 2019 and 202).
  • (87% of respondents noted a reduction in pest attacks on cocoa over the past 2 years).
  • The monoculture plots have been transformed into agroforestry plots.
  • Synthetic inputs have been eliminated and replaced where necessary by biofertilizers.
  • Growers’ incomes have risen thanks to economic diversification and reduced costs.
  • The process of transition to agroecology and agroforestry has been promoted through communication with the general public and dialogue with natural resource management companies, consumer organizations and political representatives.
  • Finally, a quality approach is being considered with 200 producers from 5 cooperatives, with the aim of certifying their products as organic via the ECOCERT label, but the high cost of such certification is leading UIREC to look for a customer for organic cocoa prior to certification.

    Do cocoa growers and market gardeners have a sustainable business model?

    • 99% of respondents believe that their expenditure on cocoa cultivation has fallen thanks to the reduction in pests.
    • Economic diversification is also crucial: 66% of respondents have other sources of income than cocoa, mainly rubber, oil palm, rice and corn. 100% of respondents feel they have earned a better living over the past 2 years.