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 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 publication:
Rice, R.A. and Greenberg, R.S. 2000. Cacao cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity. Ambio, 29: 167-173.
Cacao (Theobroma cacao) is a crop of the humid lowland tropics produced largely by small-scale producers and often on farms with a canopy of shade trees. Where a diverse shaded canopy is used, cacao farms support higher levels of biological diversity than most other tropical crops. A host of viral and fungal diseases, loss of soil fertility, and numerous socioeconomic problems facing producers, often makes cacao production locally unsustainable. Continued clearing of new lands threatens biodiversity. Moreover, new frontiers for cacao expansion are rapidly disappearing. Such problems can be addressed by increasing the long-term productivity of existing cacao farms and restoring abandoned lands. Improved shade management offers guidance along this path. Institutions involved with cocoa should establish collaborations with groups concerned with development, environmental protection, and most importantly producers themselves to pursue a program of research, extension and policy initiatives focused on the ecologically and economically sustainable cacao production on farms with a diverse shade canopy.
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