Earthwatch Institute has teamed up with Cadbury Schweppes and Ghana's Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC) to help communities harness the tourism potential of cocoa, of which Ghana is the world's second-largest producer.
Just as visitors to Cadbury's chocolate factory in the UK can learn about the history of chocolate, tourists visiting the village of Adjeikrom in Ghana will now be able to see how cocoa - the essential ingredient in the world's most delectable confection - is farmed and processed.
But the initiative, which is the result of a three-year research programme, has more serious implications for the way cocoa is currently farmed. Through research, the project's partners want to encourage farmers to protect the biodiversity of cocoa farms and promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming methods.
Nat Spring, Head of Science at Earthwatch, said: "The project has made the first steps in investigating the link between cocoa production and biodiversity - an issue which has been poorly studied to date in West Africa. The task is to find the balance between sufficient, sustainable yield of cocoa for the farmer (and end users such as Cadbury) while maintaining biodiversity on the cocoa farms.
"Maintaining a sustainable supply of cocoa is vital for the livelihood of the cocoa farmers and for Ghana in general - the long-term supply is currently under threat. However, what is now needed is a shift in emphasis towards a more integrated approach to cocoa production practice and management of ecosystem goods and services that are provided by growing shade-grown cocoa."
Since 2005 Earthwatch volunteers and scientists have collaborated with their counterparts at Cadbury Schweppes and the Cocoa Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to gather data on alternative farming methods and the potential for tourism.
The tourism venture, which will introduce visitors to the Ghanaian cocoa industry and educate people about the benefits of eco-friendly farming, will be based in Adjeikrom, in the Fanteakwa district in Ghana's Eastern Region. Launched on 20th March, it has already started generating funds for the community and Earthwatch predicts it will yield around GHC15,000 (£7,900) in 2008 alone and create further employment.
Inspiration for the initiative has been taken from NCRC's current community-based ecotourism programmes and the project is being funded by Cadbury Schweppes.
John Mason, executive director of NCRC, said: "This is the first time cocoa farm tourism has been trialled in Ghana.
"The initiative is based on the highly successful community ecotourism model that we have already helped to establish in 30 villages throughout the country. We hope it will enjoy the same success as the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, founded in 2004 in north-west Ghana."
Like the cocoa tourism project, Weichau Hippo Sanctuary came about as a result of collaborative research between Earthwatch and NCRC over a three-year period. Starting in 2000 the team collected data on a small hippo population living on a section of Lake Volta, leading to the establishment of the sanctuary, which NCRC says has brought about considerable community benefit.
"Projects like this create a revenue stream for communities without them changing anything," says Mason. The conservationist predicts that if cocoa is not protected, in 10 to 15 years it will literally have disappeared from Ghana's farms.
NCRC also hopes to replicate the model again in the Volta Region to create a sanctuary for a population of manatees which are being illegally hunted.
Cadbury Schweppes has high hopes for the project as the company, which buys the majority of its cocoa from Ghanaian farmers, is keen to identify environmentally sustainable farming methods.
David Croft, Director of Conformance and Sustainability at Cadbury Schweppes, is all too aware of the challenges facing the modern cocoa industry for farmers and buyers alike.
Speaking at the launch of the project, he said: "Everything that we're doing now through the cocoa partnership is about building from the grassroots upwards. I think there's far more value to be gained by farming communities if we can work alongside them and share the skills that we have and the skills at CRIG at a much more basic grassroots level with as many people as possible.
"That's why we started the cocoa partnership. It's all about trying to support and help the communities develop thriving rural livelihoods and that will mean they have a viable future and as a result the cocoa supply chain has a viable future and so that helps Cadbury's."
Cocoa in Ghana is currently farmed by clearing large areas of land to make way for cocoa trees as a higher yield of cocoa is produced more quickly in direct sunlight than in the shade of trees.
However, this method of farming in Ghana is currently neither sustainable or environmentally friendly, according to Dr Kwasi Ofori Frimpong, a soil scientist and senior researcher at CRIG and principal investigator of the Earthwatch study.
"Farmers grow cocoa without leaving any other vegetation around, thus reducing biodiversity," he explained. "This project is trying to encourage farmers to farm while leaving some trees around. If you leave some shoots around, you encourage and protect biodiversity."
However, he admitted it would be difficult to encourage farmers to move away from high-yield farming methods and put the environment first, suggesting that one way to encourage farmers would be to put a premium on environmentally friendly cocoa.
However, as Professor Ofori Frimpong says, cocoa grown in shaded areas is not only better for biodiversity but produces a better quality bean.
Luckily Adjeikrom farmers like Samuel Adjei are prepared to take a leap of faith and collaborate with NCRC and Cadbury's on the project.
He said: "This project will help us a lot. My son doesn't want to go into cocoa farming and I don't want him to go into it either. But this project might change that."
Ghana's first ever cocoa farm tourism initiative has been launched as part of a project which aims to promote sustainable, eco-friendly cocoa farming.