From Farmers to Consumers: All Hands On Deck for Innovative Agroforestry

Author Julia Holiday

Cacao Forest Team Member & CSR Project Manager
Photo by Cacao Forest

Last year, during a visit to the Dominican Republic, I asked Apolinar Sanchez Rosas, a cocoa farmer, why he was taking part in the Cacao Forest research project. He explained: “What we’re doing here in looking for the right type of product, that will sell well, is essential. We’re looking for (…) other products that grow well with cocoa. Yes, I understand this is good for the cocoa, but indirectly who does this help? Us. We benefit from the cocoa and we benefit from the products that grow alongside it.”

Today, it is obvious that cocoa farming as usual just does not ‘cut it’ any more. Farmers are struggling to make a living and growing cocoa is also causing significant environmental damage. Agroforestry is increasingly promoted by individual companies as well as the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, as a viable long-term solution.

What is not clear, however, is what this could look like in practice. Cacao Forest is looking for the answer.

Innovative Solution to a Complex Problem

Hand in hand with producers, Cacao Forest is working to create sustainable, productive agroforestry models and develop access to different markets for farmers. Through our research, we hope to develop agroforestry practices that will improve cocoa farmers’ resilience, diversify their incomes, increase farm productivity and protect the environment.

Creating a sustainable way of growing cocoa requires a systemic and innovative approach, drawing on the different skills and close collaboration of stakeholders across the entire value chain. Cacao Forest brings together a unique partnership of cocoa producers, scientists (CIRAD), NGOs (TFT), universities (ISARA), chocolate artisans (Relais Desserts, Révillon), and committed companies (AlterEco, Valrhona, Chocolat Weiss) to do just that.

Photo by Cacao Forest
Photo by Cacao Forest

In the Dominican Republic, where the project is based, activities are managed by CIRAD and TFT, in coordination with producers and local partners, including the CONACADO and FUNDOPO cooperatives. Today, Cacao Forest involves 96 producers from these two cooperatives.

The project started in 2015 and consists of three core activities:

  1. Designing and testing cultivation systems, including a field study of practices in over 100 farms (2015-16), workshops with producers to design four potential “cocoa agroforestry prototypes” (2017-18), and planting 36 test plots and scientifically monitoring these to evaluate the prototypes (2018-21).
  2. Developing new value chains to diversify farmers’ revenue streams, including helping farmers sell otherwise unused fruit and vegetables to organic markets in Santo Domingo and experimenting with processing certain types of fruit for export.
  3. Training farmers, starting with good agricultural practices (particularly soil management). We also plan to introduce financial training in the future.

2018, a Momentous Year

This autumn, planting began on our test plots. We also held our first seminar with producers, cooperative heads, government officials and development agencies with the goal of fostering dialogue to plan for the future together.

The collaborative nature of the project is very important. This why, this year, we also launched a crowdfunding campaign: we raised €9,820 to finance tree planting and were able to get final consumers involved in creating a more sustainable way of growing cocoa.

What’s Next?

Over the next couple of years, scientific work will continue alongside efforts to scale up the project in the Dominican Republic by supporting farmer training and raising awareness. We would like to be able to reproduce this methodology by creating agroforestry models proven to match unique farmer experiences as closely as possible in other countries as well.

Photo by Cacao Forest
Photo by Cacao Forest
Photo by Cacao Forest
Photo by Cacao Forest

As the project develops, both in the Dominican Republic and beyond, we would like to bring in more partners and turn Cacao Forest into a movement. If you would like to get involved, let us know!


Learn more about cocoa sustainability work in the Dominican Republic