Cadbury Schweppes and the Earthwatch Institute have started a three-year project to boost the income of Ghana's cocoa farmers by setting up the country's first eco-tourism scheme and improving biodiversity levels on cocoa farms.
The project will test a new approach to cocoa farming that will see it grown in a more ecologically balanced environment that provides a healthy habitat for birds and wildlife, while also increasing cocoa yield and boosting farmers' long-term financial stability.
It aims to re-establish cocoa on land in eastern Ghana once used to grow the crop. Part of the project will double as an eco-tourism venue, providing a new income stream for the farmers involved. Ghana boasts a million tourists a year.
Cadbury Schweppes' eponymous foundation will fund the project, and the company will offer its staff the chance to volunteer on the farms.
Earthwatch will co-ordinate teams of international volunteers, who will work alongside researchers from the Ghana Nature Conservation Research Centre to measure the impact of new farming methods.
The funding from Cadbury, which buys all its cocoa beans for the UK from Ghana, will also pay for a team of Ghanaian students to gain practical experience in the field.
But Friends of the Earth says that although Cadbury Schweppes is promoting and protecting biodiversity in Ghana, in south-east Asia it is a big customer of the palm oil industry, which the group blames for killing biodiversity by destroying millions of hectares of forest.
Cadbury spokesman Simon Taylor said the company buys less than 0.01 per cent of global palm oil production, and most of this comes from sustainable sources in Malaysia. Dave Hillyard, director of programme development at Earthwatch, said: "It's important to note that Earthwatch doesn't endorse the activities of any company simply by working with it. The Earthwatch policy is to work with companies that demonstrate a commitment to improving their environmental performance.
"We feel it's important to work with companies that are taking steps in the right direction, especially where we have the opportunity to contribute to this process."