Shade Grown Cacao Workshop

In late March 1998, cocoa researchers, ecologists, and representatives of the chocolate industry traveled to Panama from 22 countries to attend a unique workshop. The purpose of this eclectic gathering was to hammer out a strategy with the simple aim of maintaining and developing truly sustainable cocoa farms.

In many places, cacao farms are already providing beneficial ecological services and a good livelihood for small-scale producers. In other regions, sustainable cacao farming faces significant challenges from natural diseases and human-generated technologies. The task of the workshop was to establish what already works in the cocoa-growing world and delineate what problems need to be addressed by a creative and proactive research program.

Organized and hosted by the Smithsonian Institution*:

The formal workshop program included presentations on issues facing small farmers in West Africa, Central America, and Indonesia; problems of large-scale plantations in Brazil and Malaysia; the role of cacao in biodiversity conservation; as well as ecological approaches to pest and disease control. A field trip to the cocoa-growing region of Panama allowed participants to learn directly from farmers about the problems facing small-scale producers. Although the workshop participants were treated to a fascinating set of talks, the meeting was not a series of didactic lectures passively received by a reticent audience. Rather, what we experienced was four days of rich discussion fueled by spirited interchange and probing questions.

It is impossible to capture the diverse flavors of this discourse. However, in this document we commit to paper the broad vision — supported by a strong consensus of the attendees — for the future of cocoa production. Although the word "sustainable" was ever present, no attempt was made to establish its formal definition. Most of the workshop participants agreed that a sustainable cocoa-growing system would provide long-term profitability to the farmer — buffered from the boom-and-bust cycles characteristic of internationally traded commodities — while protecting the long-term environmental resource base and conserving biological diversity. With this shared vision in mind, we drafted a set of guiding principles and, in small group sessions, created a comprehensive research program consistent with these principles.

This is just a brief report on the output of the workshop. In the coming months the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will be preparing a more comprehensive review in the form of a white paper on the future of sustainable cacao production. Stay tuned!

This workshop aims to focus discussion on the opportunities and challenges related to the ecological and social sustainability of cacao farms and farm communities. Cocoa, the internationally traded commodity from cacao, is currently produced on 6.6 million hectares in tropical regions around the world.

Given the above, the mission of the workshop is the following:

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center/Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Panama City, Panama
30 March 1998

Guiding Principles

The following lightly edited statement was adopted by consensus of the Workshop

The participants of the First International Workshop on Sustainable Cocoa Growing believe that the cultivation of cocoa can have an important role in maintaining and enhancing a diverse and sustainable tropical environment.

Cocoa grown within a biologically diverse and environmentally sustainable agricultural system is capable of providing lasting economic, social, and environmental benefits. Grown in such a system, cocoa is a crop ideally suited to small holder cultivation.

A sustainable, biologically diverse system of growing cocoa will:

Research Recommendations — The Process

On the last day of the workshop, a small group of participants (~ 35) met to discuss and draft specific recommendations for further research on key issues for the development of sustainable cacao production. Christine Pendcich, a professional facilitator specializing in global environmental issues, oversaw the process of developing these questions. Potential questions were fielded from discussions and open fora during the first days of the workshop. A voting process narrowed the lists of potential questions. These more narrow lists were then prioritized and coalesced into the final questions presented below in three breakout sessions focusing in environmental, socio-economic, and agronomic issues. The following menu of research priorities, therefore, does not necessarily reflect the consensus of the entire group. It does represent the best thinking of the participants within the restricted time frame of the workshop.

Some Overarching Research Issues

Before discussing the specific areas of research and policy development, we would like to outline a few overarching beliefs that were voiced and echoed throughout the workshop. There was a general belief that future work should:

Priority Research Topics

I. Socioeconomic Issues facing Small-scale Farmers

A. How do we build more effective partnerships of interested parties — including producers, industry, government, research institutions, NGO's and consumers?

B. How do we generate political support from national governments for a research and development agenda for sustainable cacao production?

C. How do we strengthen the role of farmers and producer organizations in the design and implementation of a research and development program for sustainable cacao production? How do we focus research on the needs of small producers? Can farmer-to-farmer contacts help promote sustainable practices?

D. How can we develop sustained financing for extension and agro-business development programs focused on sustainable cocoa production?

E. How do we develop and provide information on associated products of shade trees (fruits, timber, medicinals, etc.)? How can we promote the benefits of income from a diversified "portfolio" of farm products and timber?

F. How can we improve access to credit for small farmers practicing sustainable cacao cultivation techniques?

G. What are the economic and environmental values of small holder cacao systems and how can these be demonstrated to policymakers? Values include biodiversity, ecological services (such as soil erosion control, watershed protection, carbon sequestration etc.), products derived from shade trees, polyculture, and empoyment opportunities.

H. What policies can be developed for promoting planting and replanting on existing agricultural lands? How can new clearing of forest lands be discouraged?

  1. How can we integrate agricultural development within forest conservation policies?
  2. How can we improve the ability of small producers to secure long-term tenure and resource rights for farms they work?
  3. Do tax, price, credit and subsidy policies provide appropriate tools for promoting sustainability and, if so, what package would provide the best and most affordable incentive for sustained cacao production on existing lands?
  4. What agronomic techniques are most effective in replanting lands by small holders?

II. Ecological Research Priorities

A. How can management practices sustain both optimal biodiversity and farm profits over time?

  1. What mixes of shade tree species and what modes of shade management are optimal?
  2. Can we select and cultivate new species of shade trees from local forest floras?
  3. What soil and mulch management practices are optimal?
  4. What are the costs and benefits of leaving natural vegetation barriers along streams and surrounding holdings?
  5. How can we minimize the use and impact of agrochemicals on biodiversity and human health?

B. How can we best use traditional shaded cacao plantations as a tool for conservation in the agricultural landscape?

  1. What is the value of using traditional cacao farms as a buffer zone for natural forest reserves or as a corridor connecting reserves?
  2. What is the importance to biodiversity of shaded cacao farms in areas that are otherwise deforested, and how can we improve the ability of these farms to support forest organisms?
  3. What factors limit the reestablishment of cacao and forest trees on degraded lands and how can these factors be overcome?

C. What is the economic value of the ecological services provided by enhanced biological diversity, and how can these services be enhanced?

  1. What is the relationship between biological diversity and nutrient cycling?
  2. What is the relationship between shade management and carbon sequestration and storage?
  3. What is the relationship between vegetation management and watershed protection and the maintenance of water purity?
  4. What is the relationship between shade management and the reduction of soil erosion?

D. What is the role of the associated (unplanned) biodiversity in dampening pests and diseases and improving pollination levels?

  1. What is the quantitative and qualitative role of different major taxa (birds, spiders, wasps, bats, ants, fungi, etc.) in the control of major, minor, and potential cacao pests?
  2. How does vegetation management indirectly affect important predator-prey or parasite-host relationships?

III. Improving Long-term Profitability of Cocoa Production for Small Farmers

A. What are ways of genetically improving cocoa stock and distributing the new stock to small farmers? Possible genetic issues involve disease and pest resistance and higher yields under shaded conditions.

B. How can propagation methods be made more efficient?

C. How can newly developed IPM and biocontrol technologies be disseminated at the level of the farm?

D. What are the best cultural practices for reduction of diseases and pests, and how can information on these practices be provided to the cocoa farmers?

E. What are the best methods for rehabilitating old and unproductive cocoa plantations?

F. What are the best ways of maintaining soil fertility while reducing chemical inputs?

G. What shade systems are most consistent with higher long-term cacao yields?

H. What genetic improvements might come from investigating wild cacao varieties?

I. How can pollination levels be increased?

IV. What are Some Critical Short-term Surveys?

The above research topics are variously long-term and intensive in nature. However, much useful information and insights can be gathered in rapid assessment surveys. Interdisciplinary teams could visit key cacao-growing regions and through simple censuses and farmer surveys garner the following:

  1. What is the quantity and distribution of different farm management systems in the various cocoa-growing regions? How are cacao-growing areas situated with respect to protected and priority areas for conservation?
  2. What is the relationship between dominant management systems and regional soil erosion?
  3. What are the pest and disease problems associated with different management systems in a region? (Based on farmer surveys.)
  4. What can we learn about ecological sustainability in general from the oldest farms in a region? (Based on observation and farmer surveys.)
  5. What is the relationship between management systems and levels of biological diversity for selected taxa?
  6. What are the economic uses of various shade trees? (Farmer and market surveys.)


The following reflects the thoughts of the SMBC and was not the specific result of any discussion or consensus of the Workshop.

The First International Sustainable Cocoa Workshop made admirable progress in developing the broad Wagnerian themes of sustainable cacao cultivation and composing a comprehensive suite of future questions and initiatives. The next step is to flesh out an operational strategy that can guide decision-makers and funders. Specific projects will and should proceed to address the priority topics outlined by the workshop — particularly those that can be accomplished through rapid assessment surveys. Still, we believe more discussion is necessary. In future workshops, the broad question of how to support the sustainable production of cocoa should be recast into several more specific areas. Each of these areas comprises a crosscutting issue that can best be addressed by interdisciplinary teams — sustainable cacao task forces. We suggest three such themes:

Finally, we believe that the although the goal of producing sustainable cocoa is a global one, the task forces focusing on these three key areas should be regional — addressing the needs of local farmers in a manner appropriate to local ecological and economic conditions. Therefore, a logical next step is a brief planning exercise to establish priority regions for developing such task forces.

* with generous support from Mars, Inc.

Research Papers on Shade Grown Cacao