Is All Cocoa Agroforestry Sustainable and Climate-Smart?

Author Falguni Guharay

Program Manager Latin America, Climate Smart Cocoa
World Cocoa Foundation
Climate smart cocoa needs biodiversity of cocoa

Central America grows less than 1% of the global cocoa production, but is seen as a high-potential region for fine aroma and high-quality cocoa. In this region, cocoa production is concentrated within the vital Central American Biological Corridor. To help conserve natural resources and biodiversity, agroforestry systems have historically been favored by local cocoa farming communities. But this model is now under threat due to unsustainable livelihoods for farmers, low productivity, and climate change.

We have seen that, in spite of dedicated efforts by farm households and farmers’ organizations to improve productivity and quality of cocoa and negotiate better prices via certification and direct trade, the current cocoa-banana-Inga agroforestry system generates low levels of income. According to a recent study carried out by CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture), cocoa growers located in the north of Nicaragua with an average 3 ha of cocoa have an estimated total net income of US$ 480/ha. This situation is a consequence of low productivity (around 450 kg/ha), which is attributed to poor shade, crop and soil fertility management and high level of harvest loss caused by Moniliasis (20-30%).

In addition, according to climate science predictions, cocoa growing areas of Central America will soon experience rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events. These changes will impact both cocoa growing households and the cocoa industry and will place both in increasing jeopardy. In this situation, growers’ vulnerability must be reduced in order to maintain risk at manageable levels.

Fostering high value climate smart cocoa agroforestry systems should therefore not only enhance cocoa productivity, but also help cocoa growers adapt to climate change and help increase farmers’ income both from the sale of products (cocoa, banana, fruits, timber) and from incentives for ecosystem services (water, carbon and biodiversity).

Within the Feed the Future Climate Smart Cocoa Program, the World Cocoa Foundation and key national partners from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua are now notably engaged in selecting site-specific productive, disease-resistant and climate resilient cocoa planting materials and accompanying trees that will contribute to transforming current cocoa agroforestry systems into climate smart cocoa agroforestry systems. The initiative will also extensively employ climate, soil, water, plants, tree, and cost-benefit data to design and establish site-specific high value cocoa agroforestry systems with participating farm households. Working through territorial learning alliances and national policy dialogues, the initiative will accelerate collective learning for scaling actual climate smart agroforestry cocoa in the region.

Getting the shade canopy right is crucial for productivity of cocoa agroforestry
Grafting improved clones on existing tress to improve productivity and quality
Irrigating cocoa in summer months is becoming a common practice
Products and ecosystem services              Accumulated net income from conventional Cocoa-banana-Inga agroforestry system over 25 years (current data US$/ha) Accumulated net income from diversified Cocoa agroforestry system over 25 years (projection US$/ha)
High quality Cocoa 25,800 21,500
Banana and fruits 1,000 1,300
Spices (black pepper) 4,000
Timber 20,000
Ecosystem services 5,000
Total net income/ha 26,800 51,800
Net income/year/ha 1,072 2,072