Cacao as Crop and Conservation Tool


Jeffrey Parrish
Wings of the Americas Program
The Nature Conservancy
1815 N. Lynn Street
Arlington, VA 22209
jparrish@tnc.org
Robert Reitsma
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
P.O. Box 28
647 Contees Wharf Road
Edgewater, MD 21037
reitsma@serc.si.edu
Russell Greenberg
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
National Zoological Park
Washington, D.C. 20008
antwren@erols.com

Introduction

The rapid conversion of much of the landscape from natural habitats to agriculture, the scarcity and isolation of protected areas, and an ever-increasing global population necessitate that conservation professionals look beyond protected areas to the agricultural landscape for additional alternatives to protecting biological diversity that are compatible with human needs. Given that the majority of agricultural practices throughout the world tend to reduce biodiversity through replacement or degradation of natural habitat, one of the greatest conservation challenges today is the integration of the economic needs driving agricultural expansion with the necessity of protecting natural resources, ecosystem integrity, and species viability (Pimentel et al. 1992, Perfecto et al. 1997). Such an integration is at the essence of what we seek in sustainable cacao production.

Shaded agroecosystems such as cacao provide a promising means of bring the challenges of creating forest-like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for the agricultural communities (Young 1996, Perfecto et al. 1997). Originating in the shade of overstory rainforest trees of the Amazon basin, cacao today still thrives throughout most of the lowland tropics as an understory plant beneath a vast and diverse mixture of shade trees. Because of cultural tradition, economic necessity, and crop biology, cacao is grown beneath larger trees that form a shade canopy, creating a closed, forest-like habitat within the typically open, degraded agricultural landscape. Though the management of this shade canopy can vary tremendously from crop to crop and within a crop type, the presence of a shade canopy generally provides some benefit to the farmer, while improving the ability of these agricultural habitats to harbor a diverse array of flora and fauna beyond the cultivated species.

Although studies have demonstrated that shaded agroecosystems such as coffee and cacao can harbor high levels of biodiversity that rival natural forest habitats and can maintain forest-dependent organisms, there have been only limited attempts to date to use these shaded agroecosystems as a large-scale conservation tool in tropical countries. The Nature Conservancy has recently initiated efforts with its partner organizations in the Talamanca Region of Costa Rica to use cacao to enhance environmental conservation of a biological corridor stretching across the region. These efforts provide critical lessons for using shaded agroecosystems as a conservation mechanism and underline the importance of integrating science with economic incentives to make conservation work for local communities and protected areas simultaneously. In the presentation of this case-study, we explore cacao as a crop in southeastern Costa Rica, examining its management and the issues facing farmers of the Talamanca district. We also present data that demonstrate the importance of cacao in harboring biodiversity and that suggest the value of cacao in assisting local and landscape-level conservation. We examine early recommendations from the region for biodiversity-compatible cacao production, and finally present a series of economic incentives being tested or considered in Talamanca and elsewhere for farmers to grow a biodiversity-friendly cacao.

 

The Cacao Landscape of Talamanca, Costa Rica

Rustic Shade Management of Talamancan Cacao

As in much of the world, cacao in Talamanca is grown along a spectrum of management from rustic, or traditional farms, to intensively managed planted polycultural shade canopies. Rustic cacao farms in Costa Rica are characterized by the planting of cacao under thinned primary or older secondary forest. In this traditional system, the understory is cleared and replaced by young cacao trees which grow to fill the lower stratum of the forest ecosystem. Since the majority of the mid- and overstories of the forest are left untouched except for some thinning, the rustic cacao farm is structurally diverse and therefore expected to harbor a vast array of secondary plant and animal diversity such lianas, epiphytes, mosses, lichens, insects, herpetofauna, and birds (sensu Perfecto et al. 1997).

In Talamanca, this rustic cacao is most commonly found on the small farms held by members from the Kekoldi and BriBr?O indigenous communities. Farmers may select forest trees to remain based on the type of shade they provide, whether they produce substantial mulch and enrich the humus layer of the soil, because of the difficulty of cutting and removal, or because they may be a forest lumber ?bank? for them in difficult market times. Examples of natural rainforest trees that are left standing in Costa Rica include cachá (Pithecelobium pseudotamarindus), gavilán (Pentaclethra macroloba), caobilla (Guarea spp.), cedro amargo (Cedrela odorata) and higuera (Ficus spp.), guácimo colorado (Luehea seemannii), and ceiba (Ceiba pentandra). See Appendix 1 for an expanded list of predominant remnant rainforest trees used as shade in Talamanca.

Several social factors can influence the likelihood that rustic cacao remains grown under primary forest and is less intensively managed. Cultural tradition may determine shade management practices, especially when there are cultural uses of native non-timber rainforest products that originate from the remnant forest trees. Distance from commodity markets can also influence farmers desire to convert rustic farms to polyculture. Because remote farms such as those of the indigenous reserves in Talamanca are located further from markets to sell the crops from planted, alternative crop producing shade trees such as citrus or plantain, these farms are more likely to leave native canopy trees standing from the original forest. Many other economic, labor, and ecological factors that affect farmersí decisions to grow cacao under forest versus planted shade are provided in Table 1.

Polycultural Shade in Talamanca

Many farmers may elect a polycultural form of management, where shade trees are planted amidst cacao trees either exclusively for cacao shade, or for the combined purposes of shade and alternative crop generation. The polycultural system can range from having multiple species of planted shade trees with occasional remnant forest species, to monocultural shade in which only one tree species is planted to supplement the cacao, as in plantations of cacao and Erythrina spp. Plantations with laurel (Cordia alliodora) as the predominant shade tree over cacao are becoming increasingly more common in Talamanca as the lumber from this rapidly growing species provides important additional income and farm resources.

Yet most polycultural systems of Talamanca continue to have more than one species of shade tree, since each tree species varies in growth rates, extent and degree of shade, ability to be pruned, degree of competition with cacao plants, and in the additional alternative crops they provide for cacao farmers. Many trees that are planted in cacao farms are leguminous (such as Inga, Erythrina, and Terminalia spp.) and therefore enrich the soil nutrients for cacao. Many of these shade trees are also valued for the great deal of soil nutrients they provide through the leaf litter. Many farms, especially organic farms that require natural assistance in nutrient additions, are therefore likely to mix alternative crop trees with leguminous shade species (Beer 1988). A list of planted shade trees currently used and those with potential for planting in cacao farms of Talamanca is provided in Appendix 1.

Abandoned Cacao Plantations

Abandoned cacao plantations compose a common cacao agroecosystem in the Talamanca district of Costa Rica where some cacao pods may be harvested occasionally. Because of the susceptibility of cacao to fungal infestation, many farmers have left cacao plots to go fallow. For example, in Costa Rica, Monilia pod rot appeared in the Caribbean lowland production region in 1979 and Phytophthora caused heavy losses before that, leaving many farms to be abandoned. Many of these were never reclaimed due to market declines. Abandoned cacao plantation can therefore constitute a significant proportion of the land cover of the lower Talamanca region, with the years since abandonment ranging from 1-30 years. In older abandoned plantations, significant secondary forest has overtaken the previously managed cacao, with up to near 100 % canopy cover (x = 66.02 ( 18.40 %) and an average of 79.8 shade trees per hectare, with an understory of moribund cacao trees. Some farmers slowly reclaim these abandoned plots as the markets shift and incidence of disease in a region declines, or they may harvest uninfected pods as time permits. Yet in Costa Rica, the abandoned cacao still makes up a considerable proportion of the landscape and likely harbors significant biodiversity. Because of the transition of the cacao farm to secondary forest, the faunal and floral communities may begin to more closely resemble that of secondary forest rather than the communities of more intensively managed systems.

Plantation Size and Organic Production

Today, Talamanca is predominantly composed of small cacao farms. As the United Fruit Company and its hold on the banana industry of Caribbean Costa Rica collapsed, the large landholdings of the company were split over time into small individual farms averaging approximately 2-3 ha (Wood and Lass 1985; Young 1996). These small landholders typically face substantially different challenges in growing a productive crop than large corporate-owned plantations. The rustic rainforest tree shade of small landholders in the region tends to have a tenuous existence, as these farmers are more susceptible in poor-market times to the need to sell their valuable tropical lumber or convert the entire cacao crop to open-grown platanos, banana, beans, or pasture than are large established plantation owners. Conversely, these small farmers also frequently lack the financial resources to afford largely expensive chemical inputs into their crop than would large plantation owners; they therefore are increasingly shifting their virtual organic production to the certified organic market standards, taking advantage of the rapid growth in organic chocolate products. Assisted by the extension work of Asociaci?>n ANAI and the market and technical assistance of APPTA (Talamancan Small Producers Association/Cooperative), a large majority of the farmerís organic cocoa has become a key ingredient in chocolate bars marketed by Newman Organics. These environmentally sensitive organic markets and the predominance of potentially environmentally enhancing shade management practices of cacao in the increasingly deforested Talamancan landscape have resulted in a focus on the use of cacao as conservation tool to enhance the biological corridor of Talamanca, Costa Rica.

 

Case Study: The Role of Cacao in Conservation Planning in Costa Rica

In 1997, The Nature Conservancy and its Wings of the Americas bird conservation program began work to study and utilize the shaded cacao agroecosystems of Caribbean Costa Rica to enhance conservation efforts in the Talamanca District while meeting the needs of local communities. The Talamanca region of Costa Rica, covers 2800 km2 of southeastern Costa Rica, stretching from the Caribbean coast to 3800 m along the continental divide (Fig. 1). The area boasts three national parks, a large wildlife management reserve, and five indigenous reserves throughout its range, yet the reserves and parks, like many of Costa Ricaís protected areas, are relatively isolated from each other due to a long history of environmentally exploitative agricultural policies outside the reserves that has left the country with one of the highest rates of deforestation in all of Latin America (Vandermeer and Perfecto, 1996). This isolation of protected area hinders gene flow of their constituent flora and fauna, threatens the long-term viability of the biodiversity in the parks, and juxtaposes conservation against economic needs of people - a contrast which ultimately denigrates conservation efforts. The perennial problem of lacking biological corridors among protected areas is even more detrimental in Talamanca, given the number of altitudinal migrants and large-ranging mammals that require intact habitat from the highlands to the lowlands for their populations to survive. As a result of the need to interconnect protected areas, the local communities of Talamanca with the government and assistance of The Nature Conservancy, have established the Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor (Corredor Biol?>gico de Talamanca-Caribe, CBTC) to stretch from Parque Internacional La Amistad in the highlands toward the lowland Caribbean sites of Parque Nacional Cahuita and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.

This area is extremely biologically rich, with highly diverse forests and several threatened animals and plants, including 59 mammal species, 43 amphibians, 51 reptiles, and over 350 birds (The Nature Conservancy 1998). Yet over 25,000 people live in and around the corridor region, living off of commercial banana plantations, fishing, tourism, and subsistence and small market agriculture. Indigenous people, such as the Kekoldi and BriBr?O, that constitute 1% of the population of Costa Rica - the last indigenous cultures in the country - have their strongholds here in these reserves, and make their living on corn, rice, and bean cultivation, as well as traditional cacao farming and forest product harvesting in the Talamancan hills.

The biological corridor itself is under severe threat, with many questioning whether this fragmented, narrow strip of broken forest can constitute sufficient natural habitat for migratory and dispersing animals to move successfully. Current threats to the natural habitats of the region include severe logging of lowland tropical forest and traditional agroecosystems, large-scale commercial banana production covering thousands of hectares, and detrimental clearing of forest for small-scale open agriculture. What is needed most urgently in Costa Rica are environmentally sustainable landuses in the area between parks that meet the economic needs of people while buffering extant forest remnants and providing safe passage and movement for plants and animals among parks through biological corridors. As such landuses are identified, it is imperative to establish economic incentives that encourage these environmentally enhancing landuses among Talamancaís hard-working residents who struggle to survive amidst shifting market prices, nutrient-drained soils, and disease-ridden crops.

The Nature Conservancy and Asociación ANAI, which has had a long-standing presence in the region, have been working to expand the Talamancan biological corridor habitat through the promotion of the widespread cacao agroforestry systems which are compatible with biodiversity conservation. Fifty-six percent of all farms in the lower Talamanca region (below 300 m) produce some cacao and approximately 69 percent of those have some natural forest trees on their land (Hernández-Auerbach 1995), creating an ideal complex of landuses that, if managed correctly, could functionally provide forest-like habitat through much of the corridor region and alongside the remnant corridor forest tracts to enhance the size and quality of the biological corridor. While shaded coffee agroecosystems prosper at higher elevations of the corridor near Parque Internacional La Amistad and harbor montane tropical species, the shaded cacao can serve as its lowland counterpart under certain management and landscape contexts, providing forest-like habitat where little forest remains. Yet to realistically use cacao as a conservation tool in the Talamancan region, several steps are being taken to put this conservation tool to work. These include:

Surveys of the avifauna of forest and different cacao management regimes, as a metric to determine the value of cacao for biodiversity conservation and to assess factors that improve cacaoís capacity to protect the corridor and its natural heritage.

Determination of the local management practices that best provide habitat for high diversity and abundance of all species, but especially forest interior species.

Developing economic incentives for farmers to maintain high environmental quality plantations and to encourage shifts to better environmental practices among plantations with less biodiversity value currently.

 

Avifaunal Surveys

In order to ensure that any conservation decisions and actions were based on the best available, most thorough science, a team of Conservancy biologists has been testing central scientific hypothesis of this conservation project that cacao provides habitat for both Neotropical migrant and resident birds, as well as forest-restricted species, because it resembles the natural structure of the forest. To test this hypothesis and examine the factors that influence the value of cacao from the standpoint of bird community composition, diversity, and abundance, study sites were established for bird sampling throughout much of the Talamanca Corridor region. Methods used included transects (walking of 0.5 km paths noting all birds seen), point counts (monitoring of all species and abundances in a 25 m radius circle with subsequent vegetation measurements within the circle), and netting of birds (to sample adequately the understory birds which are harder to detect by other methods). The sampled habitats included the last remaining large tract of contiguous forest in the corridor outside the protected areas, abandoned cacao (plantations that were abandoned between 5-20 years ago), and managed cacao, i.e. cacao plantations that are more intensively managed for chocolate production through tree-planting, clearing of the understory, or harvest. In addition, transects were also conducted in tacotal, or disturbed woody fields of second growth (averaging 3.8 years old; range = 1-15 years) which are increasingly common throughout the area (Hernández-Auerbach 1995).

The goal of the surveys have been to analyze the abundance and distribution of tropical resident and migratory bird species in different cacao management regimes and compare these various cacao agroecosystems to interior forest communities. The simultaneous surveys of the forest interior bird communities have been critically important in order to measure more conservatively the ability of cacao farms to harbor the forest bird taxa that are most sensitive to habitat degradation and disturbance and that are in greatest need of conservation attention. Moreover, because several studies have demonstrated the influence of both landscape and farm-level factors on the ultimate value of shaded agroecosystems for biodiversity habitat (Alves 1990, Parrish and Petit 1996), parallel measurements are being conducted of habitat-level management characteristics (such as shade tree density, canopy and ground cover, canopy height, and fruiting and flowering), and landscape-level measurements (e.g., distance to forest and riparian corridors). These are proving important to determining farm and corridor-level management recommendations that can assist with biodiversity conservation.

Results to date have illustrated clearly that cacao habitats can harbor high species richnesses equivalent to that of forest (Fig. 2). Although more migrant species can be found in the more open habitats of managed cacao and tacotal, resident species richness in managed cacao can actually surpass that of nearby forest (Fig. 2). Similarly, the abundance of both resident and migrant birds at sample points in managed and abandoned cacao was near equal to or greater than that found in forest points (Fig. 3). Simple measures of species richness and the abundance of individuals suggest that, categorically, cacao has great potential for providing habitat for birds of Talamanca.

Yet from a conservation standpoint, the composition of these bird communities is far more important than sheer numbers of species or individuals, given the lack of forest habitat that currently exists, the rate of deforestation, and the current population status of many bird species at risk. Therefore, a comparison of the bird communities of forest with managed and abandoned cacao plantations was made in order to characterize species as being typical of Talamancan forest communities. The number of forest species found in managed and abandoned cacao sampling points in Talamanca was not different from the number of forest obligate species per point found in sampled forest habitats themselves (Fig. 4). This is likely due to the similarity in vegetation structure between Talamancan managed and abandoned cacao plantation and the forest tracts sampled (Fig. 5). Although forest typically had more trees per census circle and usually more diverse shade tree species composition, canopy cover and canopy height in the three habitats tended to be similar. However, a final test of the value of cacao would lie in the presence in the cacao and forest habitats of migrant and resident birds that are globally of conservation concern by a variety of ranking methods. Table 2 presents the occurrence of bird species of conservation concern in the forest, managed cacao, and abandoned cacao habitats sampled in Talamanca according to criteria of The Nature Conservancy, Stotz et al. (1997), Partners in Flight and U.S. Breeding Bird Survey (for migratory species), and the CITES treaty on trade in endangered species. Based on data from the sampled points, ten threatened resident bird species were found, with 5, 6, and 7, species found in forest, abandoned cacao, and managed cacao, respectively. Overall, more species (17) of conservation concern were found in managed cacao, than in sampled forest points (13) or abandoned cacao (11), evidence that some aspects of managed cacao management are providing habitat for threatened forest species. Although cacao should not replace forest, as many species can only survive within intact forest habitat, cacao can clearly serve to supplement forest habitat and enhance the survival of forest species in an increasingly fragmented landscape.

Current work in the field is determining the farm-level characteristics such as extent of canopy cover or density of trees that can maximize the ability of a farm to harbor forest bird diversity. For example, rough comparisons of farms sampled which were traditional in their management (i.e., rustic shade with remnant forest trees) with those with predominantly laurel lumber trees as their overstory showed a surprising trend toward having greater species richness and abundance in laurel monocultural shade (Fig. 6). Yet such rough comparisons can be misleading. The traditionally managed farms of the Kekoldi and BriBr?O indians tend to be smaller farms of 1-2 hectares, and their bird communities are therefore likely impacted by the surrounding matrix of land uses, including open fields of beans and platano. Moreover, the sampled farms were much further in distance from large forest tracts than were the laurel farms, making the dispersal of forest birds to these cacao farms from regional forest patches far more difficult, despite their more natural vegetation structure. In general, distance from forest tended to impact the species richness of resident birds in general and of forest species in particular, with the number of species detected per point being lower the further away the farm was located from forest (Figs 7a-b).

These data suggest strongly that cacao has its greatest value when located near forest patches and suggests that cacao may help to enhance the size and health of protected areas when used as a buffer zone crop, or the functional size of the thin, narrow biological corridor of Talamanca. Additional analyses will begin to make concrete, quantitative recommendations of the degree of shade that is needed to benefit forest birds in cacao farms, and will examine such factors as the importance of the fruits and flowers produced by shade trees for canopy mixed-flock species and migrating songbirds that exploit these resources during the wintering and migration periods, when they are resting and refueling for long journeys to breeding or wintering grounds in spring and fall respectively.

 

Biodiversity Compatible Management Strategies

Using the data generated in avifaunal surveys, the habitat characteristics of managed cacao farms that harbor the greatest number of threatened forest species are being identified as standards for management recommendations for farmers to raise biodiversity-friendly cacao. The vast knowledge and experience of ANAI and APPTA with farmers in the region, coupled with interviews by research staff with farmers in the field, are helping to generate financially realistic, yet environmentally strong management recommendations for the farmers of the Caribbean slope of southern Central America. These recommendations will be provided to the organizations in the field, and will be written in easily understandable pamphlets and posters for distribution throughout the communities to promote awareness and encourage farmers to follow environmentally enhancing practices. It is hoped that extension work through APPTA and ANAI will be able to incorporate such biodiversity criteria into technical assistance and advice provided for improving farmer production. These management criteria can serve as the basis for standards of certification, and for acceptance into programs that will provide financial incentives for growing biodiversity friendly cacao, such as ecotourism and biodiversity-friendly certified chocolate.

 

Incentives for Farmers to Grow Cacao that is Sustainable for Biodiversity

Despite the generation of management recommendations for farmers based on science, it has become clear that biodiversity conservation and cacao agriculture will not reach sustainability unless economic and production incentives are generated for farmers to grow cacao that benefits biodiversity. In Talamanca, several incentives are being explored to improve the economic condition of cacao farms while simultaneously providing habitat for threatened forest species within these plantations. Below we present some exploratory mechanisms being tested in Talamanca, as well as additional incentives that the agricultural and conservation policy community should consider as viable means to encourage the production of environmentally sustainable cacao.

 

Certified Food Products Markets

Given the exponential growth of environmentally and health conscious products in the developed world, certified specialty foods such as coffee and chocolate that can carry the label of enhancing environmental health provide an opportune avenue to promote biodiversity-friendly agriculture that is sustainable in terms of both the environment and farm production. Talamancan farmers are currently tapping into the rising organic chocolate market, with much of the organic cacao being purchased by Newmanís Own Organics. This fact lays the foundation for integrating biodiversity criteria for certification within the context of organic certification visits that must already occur. Business, certification, and labeling negotiations can be equally as complex as attempts to find concordance on environmental criteria standards; nonetheless, efforts to promote environmentally certified chocolate may prove fruitful (Laird et al. 1996). It is extremely important that efforts to do so use existing special interest groups that can provide a sizable interested market (such as birding organizations) and thereby secure some level of demand for the product. Sufficient marketing and educational campaigns must occur simultaneously, in order to avoid building false hopes of organic, environmentally sensitive cacao farmers.

 

Work through Agricultural Extension

Providing conservation incentives through agricultural extension work is a viable mechanism since the majority of the cacao farmers throughout the world are small agriculturists without substantial guidance or access to resources for improvement of their cacao production or for access to environmentally enhancing management methods. Many farmers may lack the knowledge, for example, of the value of certain less common shade trees over their cacao that may be more beneficial for biodiversity and that may better meet their needs for crop shade. Given that tall shade trees have been associated with low pest density (Wood and Lass 1985), extension work in some localities may help to reinforce to some small farmers that they themselves may need the shade trees for sustainable cacao production as does the biodiversity of the farm and region. Agricultural extension work can also provide tree seedlings, advice on organic production, and cooperative assistance for reaching specialty food products markets for certified cacao.

In the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, for example, Asociaci?>n ANAI has been active throughout the Talamanca region tackling environmental issues through integration of nature conservation with the needs of rural people. ANAI has established several programs to provide agricultural extension to small farmers, including cacaotaleros. One initiative has encouraged farmers to use a wider variety of shade tree species through technical assistance, and materials and seedlings to build community tree nurseries for whichever species interested the particular communities (Sayer 1991; R. Mack and J. Lynch, pers. comm.). ANAI also provided new varieties of cacao that offered the hope of greater resistance to the damaging Monilia fungus that struck the region. In addition, ANAI has offered assistance in organic cacao production that provides farmers with access to selling their cacao into the specialty organic market. As a result of ANAIís efforts, some additional shade and intercropped trees have been added into the cacao system of Talamanca, including intercropping with the Brasilian arazá fruit, Eugenia stipitata, a perennial crop requiring shade, and guanabana Annona muricata. The work of ANAIís agricultural extension work has led to a greater openness of farmers to changing some environmentally detrimental practices, improved understanding of the importance of integrating conservation planning with development, and a foundation being laid for additional incentives for farmers to grow biodiversity-friendly cacao.

 

Ecotourism and Avitourism

Given that cacao plantations can harbor extensive forest biodiversity, especially forest-restricted resident and migratory birds, cultural and bird-related ecotourism may be one mechanisms in certain locations to provide substantial economic incentive to small farmers to cultivate not only cacao, but birds and the habitats they need to survive, as well. To promote shaded cacao management that protects forest birds in general and especially those around the border of the biological corridor in Talamanca, member organizations of the Talamanca Biological Corridor Commission with The Nature Conservancy are working with farmers to improve farm management while generating ecotourism business on their biodiversity-rich farms.

Ecotourism within Costa Rica has become one of the nation's top sources of income. In the Talamanca Corridor, tourist visitation is centered around Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, and Cahuita National Park (see Fig. 1). Great potential exists for small-scale bird-related ecotourism in Talamanca and especially in its cacao plantations, given the extremely high diversity and abundance of birds that a tourist could view easily within in more open mid-story of cacao plantations in 1-3 day visit (see Figs. 2-3). The avifaunal wealth of the region also includes such seasonal phenomena as the tremendous north-south raptor migration in October and April. This concentration of literally millions of migrating hawks and vultures of different species occurs because the birds follow the thermal winds rising off the mountain ranges along the tropical coastline southward to South America. In the Talamanca region, they are concentrated closer to the coastline because the mountain spines come close to the coastline. These ingredients lead to one of the most dramatic animal migrations in the world, which has proven to be a key source of tourism income at such sites as Veracruz, M?^xico, and Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania (K. Bildstein and E. Ruelas, pers. comms.).

The higher abundance and diversity of species in managed cacao than in forest habitat, while not representing a conservation panacea, does provide exciting hope for the merger of cacao cultivation with ecotourism. More species and individual birds results in a more satisfying bird tour, and creates more visitors - and therefore income - for the sustainable chocolate farms. This merger allows cacao farmers to gain access to the funds of ecotourism businesses from which they most are currently marginalized, and allows them to receive economic incentives for growing their cacao in a manner that provides excellent habitat for threatened forest birds. A series of community meetings to discuss the concept of tourism opportunities within cacao cultivation and determine farmersí interests and needs has demonstrated great enthusiasm on the part of local community members and farmers to join the avitourism initiative. Current efforts to translate this interest into opportunity include on-the-ground training by project staff of local community members to identify birds and development of ecotourism packages that couple bird-watching, cacao harvest experiences, local food and culture, raptor migration, and forest reserve visits. Training will also include efforts to teach farmers and their families how to explain their customs, traditions, and the ecology of their farms to visitors with varying degrees of experience in Latin America.

In the design of the ecotourism plan, farmers who follow biodiversity-friendly management practices and who are interested in the ecotourism incentives will gain additional funds depending on their level of involvement in the ecotour. At minimum, a farm family can receive money for access to their land for birdwatching; if they provide a tour of the chocolate harvesting and cultivation process as well as a birding tour, they can receive an even larger sum of money from the ecotourist group. In this manner, farmers have a large financial incentive to cultivate their cacao and manage its forest shade in a manner that provides habitat for birds and attracts birdwatchers as well. Using management recommendations generated from the avifaunal surveys, the Corridor Commission and its ecotourism entities can derive a set of criteria that constitute a "biodiversity-friendly" cacao farm for the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. Discussions with farmers will then determine their willingness to commit to maintenance or improvement of their management to meet these criteria. Farmers that commit to these criteria will then be added to the list of priority farms that could gain the benefit of avitourism visits to the region.

 

Carbon Sequestration

The imbalance between carbon production into the atmosphere and the level of sequestration of that carbon into natural carbon sinks has created great concern throughout the world for the implications for global climate change. New mechanisms to not only reduce the burning of fossil fuels but also to secure carbon sequestration possibilities throughout the world are being developed. One of these offering great promise as an incentive for biodiversity sustainable cacao includes the purchase of land or payment for maintenance of land in the tropics by carbon-producing energy utilities in developed countries to offset their emissions, with the expectation that those utilities will be required to pay a ?carbon tax? in the near future for their greenhouse gas emissions (Sawyer 1993). Examples of such ?joint implementation? projects are becoming numerous, including land purchases and protection in the Noel Kempff National Park in Bolivia and the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area in Belize by U.S. utility companies.

One point of contention for such projects is the opinion that such arrangements leave the developing country paying for the environmental damage of developed countries, with inability to develop their own land and natural resources that have now been placed within a protected area. However, incorporating shaded agroecosystems into these joint implementation agreements may be able to address this point. If, in conjunction with protecting natural, undisturbed ecosystems through joint implementation land purchases, payments were also provided to farmers who maintained sufficient shade trees (i.e., carbon sinks) above their cacao, then developing countries could maintain use and export capacity from the same land for which carbon offset payments are paid. Use of carbon offset/joint implementation programs may be a viable means to provide farmers with substantial economic incentives for environmentally beneficial cacao management while effecting significant conservation action over large landscapes.

 

Payment for Ecosystem Services of Shade Grown Cacao

Although worldwide an understanding of the financial value of the ecosystem services that forests and natural systems provide to humanity is just emerging (Daily 1997), the idea of placing financial quantity on services could likely be extended to shaded agroecosystems. This would be especially true in degraded areas, where only the shaded, forest-like habitat provided by the cacao agroforest provides non-timber forest products, medicinal products, food, water capture from the atmosphere for downstream villages, and water and air purity for human settlements. Local municipalities may need to recognize that any payment for utilities or taxes need to look beyond the commodity being purchased to the source of the commodity in the forests or shaded agroecosystems, transferring some of that revenue back to the farmers or landowners that maintain the existence of trees and less disturbed ecosystems.

 

International Loans and Aid Projects

As the value of shaded agroecosystems such as cacao becomes increasingly clear, conservation scientists, agronomists, and conservation professionals must ensure that the knowledge is transferred to international lending and development agencies in a manner that is easily understood. This communication should critically and constructively relay the environmental as well as economic costs and benefits of major projects that incorporate changes to the way that such crops as cacao are managed and produced. These projects should typically avoid massive intensification of shade management, often promoted in an effort to increase national crop production levels. Such initiatives often find environmental damage is the key result within short course.

Conversely, if positive effects on the environment of shaded agroecosystems under strict management guidelines are made clear to such large donor and lending agencies, they can make a great difference in the use of crops like cacao as a conservation tool. Such crops could be incorporated into plans related to buffer zones for internationally supported parks, or could provide alternative corridors for large scale continental corridor initiatives or between parks within nations.

 

Buffer Zones around Parks

Agroecosystems such as cacao that include a large diversity and abundance of shade trees are likely to provide close approximation to the watershed, nutrient, and soil ecosystem services of forest habitats, and therefore may serve as sound protective land uses for buffer zones around parks (Sayer 1991). This is especially true in high-rainfall tropical regions with steep slopes and poor soils. These shaded agricultural buffer zone habitats, especially when managed with diverse, native shade trees, are more likely to harbor native flora and fauna as well, and therefore cushion the effect of fragmentation, invasive species, and nearby expanses of open agriculture. These more sustainable agroecosystems also help to stabilize shifting, temporary, agriculture to reduce invasive destruction and encroachment at the park boundary (Sayer 1991).

Governments and private NGOís which operate and manage parks should begin to incorporate economic subsidies to buffer zone landholders to grow crops in a manner that provides a soft edge for the parksí protected biodiversity and can harbor dispersing flora and fauna while meeting the needs of local communities surrounding the park. For lowland parks, cacao cultivation may be one such opportunity. It is critical, however, that the shaded agricultural systems at the park boundary be financially stable in commodity markets so as to create a stable income for farmers through land use that also constitutes a long-term protective layer around the reserve. Collapses in the markets of these buffer-zone shaded crops, as well as pest or fungal infestations on the crops can lead farmers to shift from the previously stable shaded agroecosystem to encroachment into protected areas in search of additional farmland and alternative income sources through extractive agricultural practices. Such has been the case in parts of the Talamanca region of Costa Rica where farmers are forced to convert their shaded cacao at the edge of protected areas to plantains, sell their farms to larger developers, or extract remnant forest trees for tropical hardwood lumber. Care and support should therefore be given to farmers in the buffer zones, recognizing that if they are producing crops such as cacao that offer benefits to the park, then these buffer zones and farmer assistance are also a reserve stewardship responsibility. Financial and agricultural extension support should be incorporated within park management plans and budgets where possible.

 

Research and Management Recommendations from Experiences in Talamanca

Based on experiences in Talamanca using cacao as a means to enhance environmental conservation efforts and improve the livelihoods of local farmers, there are several research and management recommendations that have come to light, including:

Abandoned Cacao: From the perspective of biodiversity conservation, it may be more fruitful for farmers to focus on more intensive management for greater production of their extant, active cacao farms than to reclaim abandoned farms, which can be well on the road to forest regeneration in heavily degraded landscapes. Agricultural biodiversity conservationists should begin to contemplate incentives for the protection of older abandoned cacao farms that may be strategically located near corridors, riparian habitats, or protected areas.

Faunal Population Stability: Determine the long-term sustainability of bird and other faunal populations within cacao of different management intensities in order to ensure that cacao habitats that are being promoted are not, in fact, population sinks for tropical biodiversity.

Size Effect of Plantations: Compare the biological value of similarly managed plantations that differ greatly in size, since smaller plantations may reach a threshold of forest biodiversity capacity due to their being influenced by surrounding landuses.

Promoting Biodiversity Compatible Chocolate Products. Any work using certified biodiversity-friendly cacao as a financial incentive must incorporate a large educational, promotion, and publicity campaign in order to maximize the business demand for such products in order to take in the cacao that farmers become committed to producing.

Organic vs. Conventional Cacao Production: Comparisons of biodiversity between organic and inorganic cacao farms of similar landscape and vegetation configurations in order to determine the negative impact of agrochemical use in cacao farms on the unplanned biodiversity within the plantation and to evaluate the extent to which organic and biodiversity criteria must be integrated.

Combining Biodiversity and Socio-Economic Work: All too often, biodiversity studies in agricultural systems are conducted under the rubric of conservation biology, but lack any combined efforts with local community conservation experts or socio-economic analyses to determine if the conservation scientistís proposition can actually work for the farmer in the real world. Such teamwork is recommended in future studies in order to integrate socio-economic and biological criteria to sustainability within any conservation effort.

Exploration of Innovative Economic Incentives to Encourage Biodiversity-Compatible Cacao: We must begin attempts to use payment for ecosystem services, carbon offset payments, and integration of buffer zone cacao into park management plans and financial support as mechanisms to encourage environmentally sustainable cacao production.

 

For more information on cacao in Talamanca and current conservation efforts in the region using cacao production, contact:

Literature Cited

Alves, M. C. 1990. The role of cocoa plantations in the conservation of the Atlantic forest of southern Bahia, Brasil. M.A. Thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Beer, J. 1988. Litter production and nutrient cycling in coffee (Coffea arabica) or cacao (Theobroma cacao) plantations with shade trees. Agroforestry Systems 7: 103-114.

Daily, G.C., ed. 1997. Natureís services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Hernández-Auerbach, R. 1995. Financial analysis of traditional agroforestry systems on farms in the humid tropics of Costa Rica. Pp. 71-80 in, Current, D., E. Lutz, and S. Scherr, eds. Costs, benefits, and farmer adoption of agroforestry: Project experience in Central America and the Caribbean. World Bank Evironmental Paper 14. Washington, D.C.

Laird, S. A., C. Obialor, and E. A. Skinner. 1996. An introductory handbook to cocoa certification: A feasibility study and regional profile of West Africa. Rainforest Alliance: New York, New York.

Parrish, J. D. and L. J. Petit. 1996. Value of shade coffee plantations for tropical birds: Landscape and vegetation effects. Proceedings of the International Conference of Environmental Enhancement Through Agriculture. Nov. 1995, Boston, MA.

Perfecto, I., R. A. Rice, R. Greenberg, and M. Vander Voort. 1996. Shade coffee: A disappearing refuge for biodiversity. BioScience. 46: 598-608.

Pimentel, D., U. Stachow, D. A. Takacs, H. W. Brubaker, A. R. Dumas, J. J. Meany, J. A. S. OíNeil, D. E. Onsi, and D. B. Corzilius. 1992. Conserving biological diversity in agricultural/forestry systems. BioScience 42: 354-362.

Sawyer, J. 1993. Plantations in the tropics: Environmental concerns. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Sayer, J. 1991. Rainforest buffer zones: Guidelines for protected area managers. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Stotz, D. F., J. W. Fitzpatrick, T.A. Parker III, D. K. Moskovits. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

The Nature Conservancy. 1998. Rapid ecological assessment of the Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor, Costa Rica. The Nature Conservancy: Arlington, VA.

Vandermeer, J. and I. Perfecto. 1995. Breakfast of biodiversity: the truth about rain forest destruction. Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland , CA.

Wood, G. A. R. and R. A. Lass. 1985. Cocoa. Fourth edition. Longman House Press. London.

Young, A. M. 1996. The chocolate tree: A natural history of cacao. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D. C.

 

Table 1. Comparison of farmers' issues in choosing cacao cultivation under remnant forest shade versus planted shade trees.

Farmer Issue  Cacao Under Forest Shade  Cacao Under Planted Shade
     
 Labor Requirements Low  High
 Time to Cacao Planting and Production  Short, Shade immediately available Long, must await growth of shade trees before young cacao planted
Disturbance to Natural Nutrient Cycles and Soils Low disturbance to soils and natural nutrient cycles  High disturbance
Uniformity of Shade Distribution to each cacao plant Not uniform, dependent on natural configuration Uniform distribution of shade trees for all cacao plants
Nutrient provision by shade trees Mostly through leaf litter decomposition, fewer leguminous trees; Quantity and quality of nutrients varies Leguminous trees can be planted; leaf litter contributed mostly through deciduous leaf fall and mulching of shade tree prunings. Quantity and quality of nutrients varies
Ease of Shade Regulation and Maintenance Low; trees more difficult to prune and adjust shade High, trees smaller and easier to prune
Amount of Shade Provided Higher Lower, but varies with planting regime
Seasonality of Shade Low High, many common planted trees are seasonally deciduous

 

Table 2. Occurrence of bird species at risk in Talamancan forest, managed cacao, and abandoned cacao habitats.

Scientific Name

 Stat.  Con. Crit.  PIF Scr  For. Man'd Cacao  Abn'd Cacao
Buteogallus anthracinus

 R

 C

   

 X

 X

Buteo albonotatus

 R

 C

   

 X

 
Dacnis venusta

R

HS

     

X

Manacus candei

R

HS

 

X

X

X

Phylloscartes superciliaris

R

HS

   

X

 
Tangara inornata

R

HS

 

X

X

X

Thryothorus atrogularis

R

HS

 

X

X

X

Geotrygon veraguensis

R

HS

 

X

   
Microbates cinereiventris

R

H

 

X

   
Micrastur semitorquatus

R

H

     

X

Vermivora chrysoptera

M

PB

25

 

X

 
Hylocichla mustelina

M

PB

20

X

   
Dendroica castanea

M

P

19

X

X

X

Oporornis formosus

M

P

19

X

X

 
Wilsonia canadensis

M

B

18

X

X

X

Catharus fuscescens

M

B

17

X

 

X

Coccyzus americanus

M

B

17

 

X

 
Contopus borealis

M

B

17

 

X

 
Contopus virens

M

B

17

X

X

X

Buteo swainsoni

M

C

16

 

X

 
Archilochus colubris

M

C

14

X

X

 
Buteo platypterus

M

C

12

X

X

X

Total Number of Bird Species at Risk      

13

17

11

H = The Nature Conservancy/Natural Heritage Global Ranks between G1 and G3/4

S = Ranked as a species of conservation concern according to criteria of Stotz et al. (1997)

P = Partners in Flight score of greater than 18

B = Nearctic-Neotropical migratory bird species showing significant population declines according to the U.S. Breeding Bird Survey

C = Species protected according to the CITES treaty.

 

Appendix 1. Common shade trees over cacao in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, including information on their benefit to wildlife and farmers.

 

Sources: Farmer and agronomist interviews in Talamanca, including: Tranquileno, Walter Vargas Rodriguez, Timoteo Dilbert, Susanna Chic. Local literature, including: Flórula del Parque Nacional Cahuita, Arboles de Costa Rica vol.1, El Arbol al Servicio del Agricultor, Arboles Nativos de Talamanca, un reporte de ASACODE.

Figure 2. Species richness of resident and migrant birds in forest, cacao, and secondary field habitats of Talamanca, Costa Rica.

 

 Figure 3. Average bird abundance per census point in forest and cacao habitats in Talamanca, Costa Rica based on data from October-December, 1997.


 

Figure 4. Forest bird species richness in forest census points, and in cacao points in Talamanca, Costa Rica, Octover-December, 1997.

 Figure 5. Comparison of vegetation characteristics between forest, managed cacao, and abandoned cacao in Talamanca, Costa Rica.

 

 Figure 6. Mean forest bird species richness and abundance per point in cacao plantations under traditional (rustic) management versus those under a predominant cover of laurel (Cordia alliodora) shade in Talamanca, Costa Rica.

 
 

Figure 7a. Mean number of resident bird species per census point according to varying distances from nearby contiguous forest tracts in Talamanca, Costa Rica.


Figure 7b. Mean number of forest bird species per census point according to varying distances from nearby contiguous forest tracts in Talamanca, Costa Rica.