Dr. Christian Andres focuses on sustainable production systems in the tropics. His research interests have led him to investigate yam-based production systems in West Africa, cotton-based production systems in India, and cocoa-based systems in Latin America. Currently a senior research scientist and coordinator at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and a Post-Doctoral fellow at ETH Zurich, Christian is focusing his efforts on sustainable cocoa production systems.
His PhD research addressed the issue of the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD) in Ghana. CSSVD is a major cause of productivity loss in cocoa production in the region. This impacts smallholder farmers who depend on cocoa revenues for their livelihoods. In 2017, Christian reached the final round of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Young Earth Solutions (YES!) research grant competition for his proposal: Appropriate Information Technologies for Agricultural Sustainability (AITAS). Focusing on Ghanaian cocoa farmers and CSSVD, the proposal aims to explore the optimization of agricultural information provision.
Food Tank reached out to Christian for insights into his research and what led him to focus on cocoa production.
Food Tank (FT): What are appropriate information technologies (AIT)?
Christian Andres (CA): It depends on the context. The most important aspect of appropriate information technologies is that they reach the farmers and are well-perceived by them. AIT thus have to be adapted case by case. In the case of cocoa in Ghana, a dissemination strategy based around radio programs and videos on TV and mobile devices appears to be a promising approach to complement direct interactions between farmers and extension agents.
FT: How does Appropriate Information Technologies for Agricultural Sustainability (AITAS) aim to optimize AIT for an agricultural context?
CA: AITAS aims to optimize video delivery to farmers. It does so through a better understanding of the impacts of agricultural extension videos on adoption rates (of portrayed innovations) and real life indicators. By making the videos accessible to everyone, our goal is to ensure gender and generational equality (women and youth inclusion).
FT: Can you explain the issue of CSSVD in Ghana and how AITAS proposes to overcome it?
CA: Cocoa swollen shoot virus disease is one of the main factors limiting the productivity of cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) in West Africa. Because the only way to treat infected trees is to cut and replant them, the development of feasible prevention measures is very important. Eighty years of research on the matter have mainly focused on resistance breeding, mild strain cross-protection, and mealybug control. Other preventive measures with a high potential include barrier cropping and agroforestry systems. However, despite promising research results, farmers have not implemented such measures consistently. This may be due to inefficient knowledge transfer, the single largest barrier to adoption. AITAS offers the prospect of developing tailor-made extension strategies suited to the conditions of specific target groups, in this case cocoa smallholders in rural Ghana.
FT: What are some of the other research projects you are working on related to sustainable cocoa production?
CA: My post-doctoral research focuses on the potential of Dynamic Agroforestry Systems (DAFS) to reduce greenhouse gases and restore environmental health in West African cocoa landscapes. Different approaches to cocoa agroforestry systems (AFS) vary in both their feasibility for local producers, as well as their potential to mitigate and adapt to climate change and restore environmental health. The main objective of this project is to assess different cocoa AFS in Ghana and the Ivory Coast from this perspective. Our goal is to develop a guide for model AFS that can be applied in different biophysical and socio-economic contexts in West African cocoa landscapes. A long-term goal—beyond the scope of this project—is the establishment of a new label and certification scheme for sound agroforestry.
FT: What inspired you to address this topic?
CA: Cocoa and chocolate are relevant at a global scale, and many people around the globe have special emotions connected to chocolate. Improving the sustainability of cocoa production systems offers the opportunity to conserve nature and improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholders. Both topics are very close to my heart. Moreover, as an extremely gentle and sensitive plant, cacao—the “Food of the Gods”—has been used in ritual context for thousands of years as a sacred plant medicine. Cacao can help us deepen our connection with ourselves and increase our ability to give and receive love freely and generously. These are all factors that inspired me to work on cocoa.