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  • Writer's picturePatricia Chu

Mana Impact on the Ground: Visiting Ebier Suth Cokran Regenerative Cocoa Farm in West Papua

A growing cocoa pod at Ebier Suth Cokran farm

While instrumental in feeding the world, industrial monoculture agriculture depletes the soil of nutrition, keeping farmers and the broader food system “addicted” to chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs that further pollute the environment and perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels. Restoring the balance with our lands, where human dietary and economic needs can be met while protecting and replenishing natural ecosystems, is a crucial task for our generation. One of the methods that carries a lot of hope for the future is agroforestry, defined as the incorporation of trees—often carrying fruits or crops—to create more diverse, productive, healthy, and profitable land-use systems.

I have been learning about the benefits of agroforestry and was blessed to participate in a course on the topic at the A Little Wild farm in Johor, Malaysia, in 2023. (If you are curious to learn more about this course and the background of syntropic agroforestry, read participant Veronica Yow’s blog piece here.) An inspiring and rewarding experience, I left wanting to explore further what agroforestry would look like outside the demonstration plot for the millions of farmers around the world whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

Fortunately, our work at Mana Impact introduced us to the inspirational team at Ebier Suth (“Unity to Arise”) Cokran in Indonesia. “Cokran,” in short, is a community-owned social enterprise that seeks to integrate agroforestry principles to cocoa production ensuring it maintains a dynamic harmony with nature, leading to multiple benefits for the indigenous and local community of the region. Cokran cocoa recently won gold in the prestigious Cacao of Excellence Award in Amsterdam in February this year. I had the privilege of visiting Cokran in the village of Ransiki, West Papua, Indonesia, in early March this year, witnessing first-hand the incredible work put into integrating agroforestry principles into a cocoa plantation. The project as it exists today was founded in 2022 as a community-owned business and contains a total of 2,000 ha, out of which 1,200 are remnants of a previous cocoa plantation – but hopefully soon to be rejuvenated to agroforestry – and the remaining 800 ha will remain forested. 

This blog piece highlights what I learned during my trip, including some of the challenges in running an agroforestry project and how theory sometimes must strike a compromise with practice, as well as how we all can be inspired by Cokran’s work.

Adapting theory to practice

Cokran is transforming a cocoa plantation from a former intensive monoculture model to dynamic agroforestry. Besides rejuvenating the old cocoa trees, they are incorporating a variety of species, including Gliricidia (a flowering legume) and fruit trees such as bananas and Matoa (Pometia pinnata) and banana trees. The project will also experiment with turmeric in the near future. By diversifying the crops on the plantation, the soil will become healthier, supporting a healthier ecosystem and crops, while also generating additional sources of revenue for the project.

While the complexity of crops introduced at Cokran is less than observed at the A Little Wild demonstration plot, this reflects agroforestry as a practice where complexity emerges over time. Cokran works in an area where many of the farm workers were originally trained on industrial monoculture plantations and plans to start the transition slowly and introduce additional plant species along with the learning and capability of the local farmers. 

Ultimately, in practicing agroforestry, we as humans must ourselves adopt the patience of nature itself, growing two or three species before we develop a full agroforest.

Author exploring the plantation with the local crew

Engaging local stakeholders and communities

While the project still receives support from foreign experts, who have provided the base for ensuring the project adopts the best agroforestry practices, the team is conscious of the need to build up the capacity of the local stakeholders and community in order to ensure succession of such knowledge in the long-term. This is an important insight for other agroforestry projects around the world too, as they are often located in remote areas, where experts can only visit temporarily or during campaigns.

Obe Botto (far left), project financial head, with colleagues from the Ebier Suth Cokran farm

Beyond the immediate community, Cokran is committed to maintaining its strong relationships with the local authorities. During our visit, we had the pleasure of meeting a series of local government officials, many of whom are very supportive of the project as they understand what the cooperative contributes both to the environment and the community.

 A meeting with officials from the West Papua region, including the regional governor (Dr. H. Ali Baham Temongmere)

Concluding thoughts

Agroforestry is an effective yet beautiful way of stewarding the land, whereby we see diversity of crops, biodiversity and flourishing local communities.  The path is complex and given that good things take time to develop, it needs the collaboration of a village to make it successful. The journey in supporting Cokran reach its full potential has just started, and we look forward to continuing this journey with the local team, the community, as well as other mission-aligned investors.

Written by Soeren Petersen



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