One sip of pure ceremonial grade cacao easily proves itself to be medicine to the body, mind, and spirit. But did you know that cacao is also a tool for healing damaged ecosystems?
Allow me to explain a bit about cacao’s role as a tool for tropical reforestation:
Cacao grows primarily in the tropics where it thrives in high heat and humidity. These ecosystems, which are most abundant around the equator, are essential for pumping the global water cycle.
The environmental crisis may prove to be one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. What we are seeing now is just the beginning of what could become much worse— unless we take swift, meaningful actions.
Agroforestry presents itself as an essential piece of the puzzle in creating sustainable solutions.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) define agroforestry as: “A dynamic, ecologically based, natural resource management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels.”
At Cacao Source, we view cacao as the poster child species for reforestation. It thrives in a habitat that is 50% sunlight and 50% shade, meaning it can grow under the canopy of native trees that support wildlife. These trees could also be huge overstory trees, such as cashew, mango, or avocado, which can also provide food, and later, timber for building.
Creating a cacao food forest becomes a bit of a puzzle. For example, you’ll first want to start by choosing the different breeds of cacao you would like to use. Of course, the flavor is important, but so is its natural resistance to pests and diseases.
Then you’ll want to consider all of the different breeds of companion plants to choose from. I once visited a farm in Nicaragua that chose various cultivars of mango that fruited at different times of the year. Through strategic planning, they were able to extend mango season to an entire 5 months! That’s almost half a year to enjoy nature’s best! By knowing the seasonal characteristics of each fruit tree you plant, you can ensure your forest will always be abundant in food.
A few other notable species that co-exist with cacao include breadfruit, turmeric, vanilla, bananas, plantains, citrus, jackfruit, and coffee.
The possibilities are endless, but the most important step is to create an open mind!
Agroforestry creates a balance between humans and nature. Instead of merely exploiting it, we are living in harmony with it. We are giving back to what we are receiving. In return, an agroforestry system will continue to recycle nutrients and water, which are essential aspects of our global climate.
A great portion of beautiful, pristine forests in the world has been replaced by monoculture— meaning planting just ONE crop. This cultivation technique decreases biodiversity and fertility while increasing soil erosion and desertification. This lays the framework for a vicious cycle of scarcity and poverty as farmers grapple to increase yields through further deforestation.
Most of the chocolate grown for commercial use in the world, i.e. the chocolate industry, relies on deforestation and replacement by monoculture to grow cacao. And, the cacao industry is expected to rise 7% by 2030 (according to Transparency Market Research).
This means the chocolate industry is here to stay. New techniques for growing cacao are in desperate need of being implemented.
In one study conducted by the Smithsonian Institute, it was deduced that cacao could actually be integrated into regenerative landscapes.
“In each cacao-growing region, programs should be established to replant
abandoned or failing cacao holdings using diverse shade that is useful to farmers
and supports wildlife, as well as to protect remaining forest lands.
In regions of new cacao production, farms should be established on already
deforested lands so that cacao would provide a mode of reforestation, and
particular efforts should be made to incorporate cacao as a buffer zone crop for
established forest reserves and parks.”
Here at Cacao Source, we are committed to sourcing our cacao only from dynamic agroforestry systems. This empowers farmers who are actually land guardians and doing the right thing. As this techniques prove themselves to be abundant and profitable to neighboring farms, more farmers will be willing and ready to step into this practice.
Stay tuned for our Back to the Source non-profit which will be driving this ecological change here in Guatemala!