A group of ISARA-Lyon Master of Agroecology students recently undertook a project with Cacao Forest to investigate the current best practices for teaching cacao agroforestry. This project, completed over the past two months, connected the students to CIRAD and Earthworm Foundation working on the ground with cacao farmers and researchers in the Dominican Republic. Through the exciting work, the students were able to come to several key conclusions that will help guide the Cacao Forest project through future engagements with various Universities within the Dominican Republic. They hope this work will be the basis for a holistic curriculum for university students to understand the various ecological, abiotic, and socio-economic factors that affect the implementation and maintaining of a cacao agroforestry farming system.
A significant finding for teaching cacao agroforestry was the importance of combining theoretical with practical teachings sessions. The teaching sessions should emphasize not only the agroforestry technique, but also the critical evaluation of the fit for said technique to the specific agroecological conditions on the farm. This concept of critical systems thinking should be continued to be used in classes focused on the ecological and agronomic components of a cacao agroforestry plot. Additionally, the students found the clear positive socio-economic benefits of adopting cacao agroforestry practices, but these are contingent on the initial socio-economic characteristics of the cacao farmer such as their education, age, and plot size. One of the most interesting and driving results from this project is that, if established, the university level curriculum on cacao agroforestry would be the first of its kind in Latin America.
Universities in the region teaching agroforestry or cocoa processing