Blolequin Ivorian Forest, November 2020. The trees are being burned by illegal planters to allow the cocoa trees (forming a green canopy in the image below) to thrive. PAUL LEMAIRE/SAIF PICTURES
” Silence ! shouts a resident of Bébou, almost 200 kilometers northeast of Abidjan. With machetes and slingshots in hand, pistols on their shoulders, about twenty volunteers enter the classified forest of Bossématié, not far from the village. The villagers dismount from their motorcycles and discover small fields of corn and plantains behind the dense vegetation.Hundreds of cocoa trees have also been growing here for almost three years.Illegal plantations in this forest are said to be protected by agents of the Ivorian state.
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“We cut everything! “Starts Pascal Assa Koffi, President of the association Save the classified forest of Bossématié, created in July 2021. At his side, a villager fires a shotgun in the air to call for volunteers who have gone in a different direction. Those who are also cocoa and rubber planters in their village are determined to cut down any plants they come across on their way. “We put our hearts into it because we were asked not to come and cultivate on this land. Meanwhile, illegals are getting rich here »assures Modeste Anet Bilé, secretary of the association’s executive office, a machete in hand.
Their secret plantations have destroyed 60% of the Bossématié forest in ten years
Over the past decade, thousands of clandestine loggers have infiltrated this forest, killing the trees and growing cocoa to sell to local cooperatives, as well as food crops. According to the NGO Mighty Earth, 40% of Ivorian cocoa comes from protected areas. To combat this phenomenon, the inhabitants of the ten villages surrounding the classified forest have formed an association and armed themselves. The illegal immigrants are mainly from Burkina Faso, says François Ruf, a researcher at the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) in Côte d’Ivoire and a cocoa specialist. According to CIRAD observations, their secret plantations destroyed 60% of the Bossématié forest in about ten years.
They burn down the big trees one by one
Her technique is repeated on dozens of plots. The illegal immigrants start by “cleaning up,” meaning they clear the space, then they plant the seeds. Then, since the cocoa trees need the sun, they burn the big trees one by one – Frakés, Framirés, Irokos, Bétés… – at the foot of the trunks, causing their gradual death and then their fall. “They cannot be identified by drones because the trees only fall down a few months later,” says Galo Kla Abelle, President of the NGO Initiative for the Development of Cocoa, one of the first supporters of these villagers.
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