© Axel Fassio

Growing Cocoa and Protecting the Forest at the Same Time

© Axel Fassio

Northwest Madagascar is known for its fruity cocoa beans. However, the local population suffers from high levels of poverty and climate change. As an alternative to widespread slash-and-burn agriculture, Helvetas is committed to sustainable cocoa cultivation. This benefits not only small farmers but the entire ecosystem. Helvetas is pursuing the landscape approach in collaboration with seven private sector partners and is supported by the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa. 

  • Project Name
    Climate-resilient Landscapes Sambirano
  • Project Phase
    2023 to 2027
  • Funding
    SECO/ Swiss Plattform for Sustainable Cocoa, Lindt & Sprüngli, Villars Maître Chocolatier SA, Pronatec AG, MIGROS, Walter Matter SA, Max Felchlin AG, Touton SA
  • Thematic focus
    Climate & Disaster Resilience
    WASH Services
    Private Sector Development

Landscape approach for sustainable cultivation 

In the northwest of the country, along the Sambirano River, people live from agriculture and cocoa exports; the latter is the most important livelihood source for the population. Around 33,000 predominantly smallholder cocoa farmers produce around 10,000 to 14,000 tons of cocoa beans per year. Ninety-five percent of Madagascar's cocoa comes from this region. Despite this, many live below the poverty line. Large parts of the forests have fallen victim to slash-and-burn agriculture – for additional fields and charcoal, and also because there are no alternative sources of income. Madagascar has lost around 44% of its forests in the last 60 years. 

The consequences of deforestation are erosion and the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity. The high sedimentation load has a significant impact on the water balance and agricultural production in the Sambirano Valley. At the same time, climate change is increasingly threatening cocoa production. 

In order to offer a long-term perspective for the people – and the forest – Helvetas is working with private sector partners in the Sambirano Valley to promote sustainable cocoa production. Helvetas is pursuing the landscape approach, whereby the measures for sustainability not only apply within the cocoa value chain, but within the entire water catchment area in order to improve the ecosystem services in a holistic manner. 

Sustainable forest management 

To ensure a coordinated approach, a functioning and institutionally anchored governance body was created: the Comité de Gestion du Bassin Versant du Sambirano (COGEBS). It reconciles the interests of the various groups and coordinates the measures at the landscape level.  

Conservation and land use plans are drawn up and measures for restoring the landscape are planned in coordination with the communities, private sector partners, the Madagascar National Park and the national platforms for cocoa and vanilla. Locally adapted tree varieties are planted in the identified reforestation areas, some of which are available for sustainable use. Helvetas supports the COGEBS in coordinating this with the different stakeholders and supports the mobilization of the necessary financial resources. 

Learners become teachers 

Smallholder farmers are trained in climate-resilient farming methods, agroforestry and income diversification. This enables them to increase their income and diversify their diet. The cultivation methods also improve soil quality, sequester carbon and make crops less susceptible to climate change. Following the principle of "training the trainers”, the training program ultimately benefits more than 5,000 smallholder farmers. 

Energy-efficient cookstoves and secure land rights 

To reduce the demand for firewood and charcoal, households are supplied with energy-efficient cookstoves. This helps protect the forest and avoid an estimated 100,000 tons of CO2 emissions. 

Many smallholder farmers also have no formal land rights and therefore no investment security or access to credit. However, securing these land rights is associated with high costs for them. Helvetas supports the rural population in submitting collective applications, which significantly reduces the costs for individuals, and advises applicants on the legal requirements in the process. The land titles obtained are an important way out of poverty for smallholder farmers, and they also guarantee the right to harvest tree products – an important incentive for investment in agroforestry and reforestation.  

Partners: Center for development of the University of Bern (CDE), myclimate 



Climate & Disaster Resilience

Every year, we support over 1,000,000 people in adapting to climate change, reducing the risks of disasters, sustainably managing natural resources, and conserving nature.

Wie wir Menschen in Madagaskar unterstützen

Helvetas setzt sich in Madagaskar für die Kleinbauern ein und engagiert sich für bessere Hygiene, sauberes Trinkwasser und den Schutz der Wasserressourcen.