Sustainable cocoa agroforestry is stopping slash-and-burn deforestation at the heart of the Congo

The Okapi Faunal Reserve, Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo
The Okapi Faunal Reserve, Ituri, DRC
Sustainable cocoa agroforestry is stopping slash-and-burn deforestation at the heart of the Congo

Investment is needed to expand our community forest management programme and develop international market links for sustainable, deforestation-free Ituri cocoa.

We’re stopping deforestation and improving livelihoods through a sustainable cocoa cooperative, and enabling community stewardship of the forest.
We're showing that, with a bit of local innovation, frightening rates of slash-and-burn clearance can be controlled.


The wild and cultural heart of the Congo is under threat from the uncontrolled spread of slash-and-burn agriculture.

The Okapi Faunal Reserve, one of the largest intact forests in the Congo Basin, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger. It is home to a unique array of life, including 90 mammal species, and is also the home of the Mbuti and Efe pygmy groups, many of whom continue to lead a traditionally semi-nomadic lifestyle that is closely dependent on the forest. The landscape contains an estimated 1 billion trees and 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon, yet deforestation is accelerating. The devastation is driven by an increasing human population and the immigration of farmers from the heavily populated areas in North Kivu in search of available agricultural land. Around 10,000 hectares of forest are lost each year to slash-and-burn clearance.

Cocoa farmers
Beans drying


Cocoa agroforestry provides a better alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture, and community-owned forests create locally-enforced forest conservation rules.

We are dedicated to the conservation of the Okapi Forest Reserve with its core of intact, highly biodiverse forest and vital populations of animals. Although security conditions in the region remain extremely challenging, WCS works with the Congolese national parks authority (ICCN) to maintain regular forest patrols. Our community development specialists work with villages in the surrounding area to promote sustainable, deforestation-free livelihoods. WCS is actively supporting the creation of three community forest permits in the reserve’s wider landscape, which will allow local communities to become stewards of their area and play an active role in upholding conservation laws.

For 10 years, WCS has been supporting the cultivation of cocoa as an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture. Cocoa is relatively new to the area, but promises a better future for local farmers than the cultivation of annual crops such as maize and cassava, creating a buffer of more sustainable land use at the forest frontier. Cocoa is planted in combination with native forest shade trees, meaning plantations store more carbon and support greater biodiversity than maize fields. Cocoa is also more profitable, meaning that families can make more money without needing to expand the area of land they cultivate.

We are working with around 3,000 farmers from a local cocoa cooperative, UPCCO, which supports 20% of the estimated 14,000 cocoa farmers in the landscape. We want to expand the reach of the programme to all communities in the reserve’s buffer zone. 

cocoa tree
Epulu river
Ituri from above
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Photo credits: WCS
Scale of opportunity
The Okapi Faunal Reserve is 1.4 million hectares of lowland tropical rainforest (about half the size of Belgium).
Trees target
The reserve contains around 1 billion trees. Reducing deforestation on the reserve’s periphery could save 6 million trees from loss in the next 5 years. We also plan to plant an additional 2.5 million trees, consisting of cocoa and native shade trees.
Flagship biodiversity
The largest population of Okapi or “forest giraffe” in the world (Critically Endangered and endemic to the forests of the DRC), 1,500 forest elephants and 15 species of primates.
Cocoa agroforestry is creating a better future for people, and promoting local land stewardship to allow communities to become guardians of their own forests and play an active role in upholding conservation laws.