Cacao Forest aims to create the sustainable cocoa of the future. Through agroforestry – growing cocoa trees alongside other types of tree – we hope to create innovative agricultural models that will increase the quality and productivity of the cocoa trees, improve farmers’ livelihoods and protect the environment.
To truly change the way cocoa is grown and to have a positive impact on farmers’ lives and the environment, we are working together with people all along the value chain, from producers and researchers, to NGOs, private companies and customers. Together we are innovating together for the sustainable cocoa cultivation of tomorrow.
Last news from the field
Our focus is on the long-term future of cocoa
Cacao Forest aims to create innovative ways for sustainable cocoa farming in the Dominican Republic, which is the leading global exporter of certified organic cocoa at this date.
We will bring a revolution into the cocoa industry!
Current cocoa farming methods, though technically viable, are simply not sustainable for small farmers. We believe that to ensure the future of cocoa and the livelihoods of those work with it, we need to do things differently. Cacao Forest aims to develop lasting agroforestry-based solutions that are adapted to needs and limitations of smallholder farmers. For us, the best way to achieve this is through extensive, scientific research that draws upon analysis of existing practices, collaborative creation of new cocoa cultivation models and the involvement of stakeholders all along the value chain.
Innovation is at the heart of Cacao Forest.
Our approach aims to establish alternative ways of growing cocoa to the mainstream model, which is intensive and unsustainable. We develop these new methods through applied research and by drawing on the expertise of different actors throughout our value chain. The scale and nature of our work is groundbreaking, drawing as it does on multidisciplinary research, from agaronomy to socio-economics, as well as on the design and transfer of innovation, that brings together a multitude of actions on the plantation and in so doing, creates a regional impact. We work with farmers in a number of cocoa growing regions across the world, developing new, effective and sustainable methods that work for all. Together, we are innovating to pioneer an alternative approach to cocoa, an approach based on sustainable agroforestry models that tomorrow we believe will be the norm.
Cacao Forest is a new way of working.
We believe in collaboration and partnership, rather than in competition. For a viable alternative approach to agriculture to flourish, the solutions we create must work for all involved. Through Cacao Forest, private companies, scientists, educators, and end-consumers are for the first time partnering with producers and local experts to create a way to grow cocoa that will help society and the environment over the long term.
Our focus is on the long-term future of cocoa.
We want to find lasting solutions that will improve farmers’ lives and improve the resilience of the cocoa sector as a whole. We believe that it is only possible to improve farmers’ livelihoods over the long term if the agroforestry models we develop also help the environment. Agroforestry-based solutions work with the local environment, not against it, increasing the likelihood that they will take root and flourish long term. We aim build a solid base of sustainable practices that make a positive impact across the value chain and inspire others to join us. Ultimately, our aim is that the new models we develop become widely adopted, creating a truly sustainable cocoa industry.
What is agroforestry?
Agroforestry is a core component of the Cacao Forest project, and we think it is important to take the time to explain this system and approach.
Agroforestry is a farming technique combining different species of trees and plants that grow around a main crop, with the intent of creating a more favorable and fertile ecosystem for each species.
Used since the dawn of time, agroforestry is a natural farming system. Early on, people quickly understood the benefits of farming near trees: shade, protection from the wind, humidity regulation, etc. Agroforestry has been used by different populations all over the world. Examples of agroforestry systems include bocage farming in Normandy, the Creole gardens in the Caribbean, “jungle rubber” farming in Indonesia, and berry growing and tree farming in Finland.
Between 1940 and 1960, much of the world’s population needed to increase the amount of land used for growing crops, applying intensive farming techniques and monoculture systems to increase yield, but eliminating the use of trees in the process. Today, we understand that the massive deforestation in recent decades, among other factors, is one of the major causes of global warming. In the tropics, farmland expanded exponentially to meet increasing demand for a wide variety of agricultural products (soy, palm oil, rubber, coffee, etc.). If we take cocoa as an example, production grew from 850,000 tons in the 1960s to 3 million tons today. For many countries, the huge increase in land use for cocoa trees has resulted in the destruction and even total eradication of forestland.
Cocoa as an example
In the wild, especially in its native South America, the cocoa tree grows beneath the equatorial forest canopy that the bigger trees create.
In many cases the smalltime farmers who produce fine cocoa continue to use agroforestry techniques. When expanding, while they may cut down some trees, they leave many in place and even replant others, applying a simple version of the natural agroforestry model.
Other agroforestry models
In Europe, certain ancestral agroforestry systems are still used today, like bocage farming or sylvopastoral grazing. In these systems, livestock grazes in fields or alpine meadows, maintaining farmland and eliminating the need to grow hay for feed (except for the winter).
Agroforestry offers several benefits
In addition to the shade they provide, trees maintain the right relative air humidity rate for many plant species. Soil decomposition stabilizes biomass recycling and the nutrient cycle. This process preserves and even restores soil fertility through biological activity, and also reduces erosion.
The combination of different species maintains a high level of plant and animal biodiversity. On cocoa tree plantations, trees also structure the habitats for the type of biodiversity that favors pollination. When well managed, they provide a reasonable alternative, through the right ecological balance, to using chemicals to regulate pest and other bioaggressor populations.
Agroforestry systems contribute much more to fight against climate change than simplified carbon sequestering models, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Depending on the species present, the biodiversity in an agroforestry system also provides farmers with steady revenues throughout the year. Fruit from trees growing on cocoa plantations and other derivative products (such as medicinal bark, wood, caterpillars, and palm oil and wine) can be used by farmers and their families (for significant savings) and/or be sold on the market as another source of income in addition to cocoa.
Creating well-balanced agroforestry systems that perform well is not an easy task: several agronomic, ecologic, economic, and social factors need to be considered (especially grower education) to avoid unexpected negative outcomes. This is Cacao Forest’s primary focus: testing the feasibility of different cocoa agroforestry models in several areas across the Dominican Republic. To date, the initial results are promising. We will share more detailed results as soon as possible!
Preliminary results presented at
the World Congress on Agroforestry
From May 20 to 22, 2019, in Montpellier, France, CIRAD and INRA hosted the World Congress on Agroforestry in partnership with World Agroforestry (ICRAF). Organized only once every five years, this was the first time that this important conference took place in Europe. Renowned experts from all over the world led one fascinating talk after another to discuss the major questions in agroforestry with key industry stakeholders. They also shared results from current research projects to identify common development issues to work on together.
During the World Congress on Agroforestry, CIRAD's Martin Notaro had the chance to present the preliminary results from his ongoing research for Cacao Forest. This provided a great opportunity to introduce the project to as many people as possible and to further establish the non-profit's legitimacy among specialists.
Martin, a 3rd year PhD student at CIRAD, is conducting his thesis research as part of the Cacao Forest project. Representing CIRAD in the Dominican Republic, he has spent 2 years in the field collecting and analyzing data to establish a detailed inventory and assessment of the current situation. His assessment describes the type of cocoa trees and other existing tree species in the area, and includes their density, height, age, and other secondary data.
Agroforestry consists of mixing different trees, including those used for agriculture, with other species of plants to maximize soil resources while also preserving the environment.
Farmers who use agroforestry often combine one main crop (in this case, cocoa) with other species of trees to shade the main crop. This in turn provides the grower with a variety of other produce, products, and revenues from the fruit, fodder, and many uses for wood.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that cocoa yield decreases when the diversity and density of other plant species in the agro-forest system increase. The different species start competing with each other and even trees from the same species compete (for sunlight, water, soil nutrients, etc.).
However, using only yield as a parameter remains a very shortsighted outlook and should not be the only element taken into consideration. Plant diversity stabilizes and nourishes the soil, and provides additional revenues and/or food to growers' families.
Goal of the study
Our hypothesis postulates that in an agroforestry system the overall revenues generated by the associated products, produce, and main crop (cocoa in this case) can be higher than the revenues generated by growing only cocoa trees ( monocropping).
We used the following method to test this hypothesis:
140 farmers were randomly chosen in the three major cocoa producing regions of the Dominican Republic.
Among these farmers, we identified three main agroforestry models:
- Type 1: low diversity and density of associated trees (cocoa trees cover more than 85% of the land), very few species present;
- Type 2: moderate density and diversity, between 3 and 7 different species of trees on the cocoa plantation;
- Type 3: high density and diversity, more than 7 different species present.
CI: Cocoa Income
FI: Fruit Income
SC: Self Consumption
The revenues from cocoa are similar for Type 1 and Type 2 models, but they are far less for Type 3 models.
The revenues generated by selling fruit are the same for all three models. Family fruit consumption is clearly greater for Type 2 and Type 3 models.
The most common fruits grown on cocoa plantations are bananas, avocados, and citrus.
Type 2 parcels clearly generate greater overall revenues: while cocoa yield is similar to Type 1 parcels, Type 2 parcels produce a significant amount of additional food that the farmers' families eat. It is highly likely that farmers could sell more fruit from the cocoa plantation than they do now if better logistics and supply chains were in place.
Replacing weak or sick trees in Dominican cocoa plantations and maintaining agroforestry diversity help to increase revenues for growers, reduce the poverty rate, and make a career in cocoa tree farming appealing to younger generations.
This is the current work in progress on the 36 parcels studied by the Cacao Forest team, and we are all highly motivated to contribute to further developing the current positive dynamic and this very promising approach.
The men and women of Cacao Forest meet in the Dominican Republic!
From October 12-15, 2018, Cacao Forest project partners literally gathered together in the fields of the Dominican Republic. Meeting face to face offered them the chance to exchange ideas and discuss their thoughts on how to move forward by providing the project with greater national exposure.
Since Cacao Forest started in 2016, this is the first time project partners have met together at the plantations. It is just as important for key stakeholders in Europe to meet with farmers to measure project progress, as for the Dominican cooperatives to understand why chocolate companies and artisan pastry chefs from the other side of the Atlantic invest in a project to develop innovative models for sustainable cocoa farming.
Seeing project progress firsthand
This trip offered the chance to meet with the cocoa farmers who are members of the project’s partner cooperatives (Fundopo and Conacado). It also allowed members of the steering committee to visit several active cocoa plantations to see for themselves the aging orchards and Dominican cocoa farmers. In addition, steering committee members toured several parcels of an experimental participative network (EPN) that is currently testing four innovative agroforestry models for growing cocoa trees. These parcels, put in place between April and September 2018, rely on cultivating a wide variety of other plants, trees, and crops alongside the cocoa tree that also have value and produce food for local markets.
Traveling to the Dominican Republic also provided the opportunity to meet with the companies that process some of the fruits grown alongside the cocoa trees: sapodilla, mango, papaya, etc. Managing the biodiversity created to improve the ability of Dominican cocoa tree plantations to generate a diversified, sustainable, and continuous source of revenue throughout the year is one of the cornerstones of the Cacao Forest project in the Dominican Republic. This is the main focal point in the work conducted by CIRAD (The French Agricultural Research Center for International Development) for our project. The Earthworm Foundation team also continues to look for market opportunities for the crops harvested through farmed biodiversity. The foundation provides support to farmers in structuring existing distribution channels and in creating new channels for crops grown in cocoa tree based agroforestry systems.
Round table discussions: assessment and perspectives
In conjunction with the plantation visits, Maria Rey de Arce, the local coordinator for the Earthworm Foundation, organized two events:
· A seminar presenting a progress report covering the first two years of the project in the Dominican Republic and one year after the end of the first phase. All public and private Dominican institutions involved in the cocoa industry attended the seminar (the Ministry of Agriculture’s cocoa department, the National Cocoa Commission, the National Institute for Agricultural Research, the Ministry for the Environment and Forests, partnering cocoa farmer cooperatives…), as well as two major international development aid agencies (AFD, IDB), to provide the project with enough visibility at the national level to ensure it continues beyond phase 1 (2017-2019). During the seminar, the national and international partners present were able to provide their feedback on actions led and make suggestions for future prospects of the Cacao Forest project in the Dominican Republic. The round-table workshops supplied key information and the opportunity to discuss the feedback in detail.
· A two-day steering committee meeting was held right after the seminar. It created the framework to (i) develop a collective strategy and action plan for the 2020-2022 phase II of the project, (ii) to consolidate the 2019 budget to cover the teaching and training needs for research conducted by CIRAD, and (iii) to write a concrete action plan prioritizing the target countries for future Cacao Forest projects.
A friendly sharing of ideas
This trip included a gourmet dinner and friendly evening gathering, with demonstrations and pastry tastings by Relais Desserts pastry chefs to introduce local farmers to the wide variety of possible uses for cocoa. The dinner also proved extremely useful in highlighting the interdependence within the industry: to make gourmet pastries you need high-quality cocoa; you cannot grow high-quality cocoa without taking into consideration the local climate, environmental constraints, and the need for farmers to earn a respectable income for their beans.