Chocolate Farms as Bird Habitat

January 1, 2000 by Gregory Gough

black and white drawing of cacao tree with fruit - the oval cacao pods grow from teh trunk and the leaf is lanceolate

Cacao is a small tree from which chocolate is made. It grows at low elevations in tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Like coffee, cacao plants can be grown in the shade of a forest canopy. Such forest canopies can serve as habitat for a variety of animals, including migratory birds, that would ordinarily live in natural forest. Cacao is likely the best lowland tropical crop for conserving biodiversity (coffee grows at higher elevations).

Farmers growing cacao under a tree canopy derive several other benefits:

  • shade suppresses weed growth
  • fallen leaves supply fertilizer
  • tree canopy can provide other agricultural products including fruit, timber, and medicine.
  • animals living in the trees can provide pest control

Shade grown cacao is not a substitute for natural forests. Many animals that live in forest cannot survive in cacao, including animals that live in the understory and large mammals and birds. However, it is better for biodiversity than cacao grown in full sun, much like corn, without a tree canopy.

This article summarizes the information in this scientific paper:

Rice, R.A. and Greenberg, R.S. 2000. Cacao cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity. Ambio, 29: 167-173.

Download scientific paper