Yes, we all love chocolate, but did you know cacao farming to produce these sweet treats is one of the drivers of deforestation in South America? Cacao farming is not only accelerating the decline of tree cover across the world but driving soil degradation and biodiversity loss as a result of monocultures where land is stripped solely for cacao farming. With global demand for chocolate expected to grow by nearly $20 billion over the next five years, addressing this challenge has become increasingly critical. Luckily, there are some important solutions to this crisis – enter agroforestry.
Agroforestry is one of the key development activities employed at our Tambopata project in Peru, which is creating an economic buffer zone around 591,851 hectares of forest – the Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve – by helping local farmers to transition to sustainable agricultural production, such as cacao agroforestry. The project’s main aim is to conserve forest and biodiversity through transforming land use and promoting sustainable development through deforestation-free commodities.
So what is agroforestry and why is it important at our Tambopata project and elsewhere? Agroforestry is defined 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”. Simply put, agroforestry is the practice of integrating trees and shrubs among other crops to prevent monocultures that degrade the land. Agroforestry is particularly important as it encourages agroecological restoration and rebuilds soil fertility, allowing small farmers to benefit off the same tract of land for longer, producing multiple crops in one area and on healthier land. Critically, successful agroforestry removes the need to clear additional land for the rich soil it provides. It also can act as a wildlife corridor.
The agroforestry programme at the Tambopata project was designed to promote deforestation-free livelihoods by providing support to local communities to transition away from unsustainable land use, such as cattle ranching or farming in monocultures. AIDER, our implementing partner on the ground, founded the COOPASER cooperative in 2014, which will have aggregated 400 smallholder farmers by 2021 to restore 4,000 hectares of degraded land by cultivating high quality cacao under agroforestry practices. Over 1 million cacao trees have now been planted in this way, with the ultimate goal of achieving commercial scale and establishing a long-term and resilient revenue stream for local farmers. Just last year, the project reached two important milestones: the formal opening of its cacao processing plant and its first export of cacao!
In Peru alone, our chocolate obsession drove a fifteen-fold increase in cocoa production from 2007 to 2016. With enterprises like cacao agroforestry at Tambopata, Peru is on its way to building a sustainable marketplace for cacao that drives prosperity for local farmers without costing the environment. The project is demonstrating how this can be done: through understanding local economic drivers, strengthening farmers’ resilience and putting a price on restorative agriculture to drive meaningful change.
Read more about the work we are doing at the Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve project here.