One sip of pure ceremonial grade cacao easily proves itself to be medicine to the body, mind, and spirit. But did you know that cacao is also a tool for healing damaged ecosystems? 

Allow me to explain a bit about cacao’s role as a tool for tropical reforestation.

Cacao grows primarily in the tropics where it thrives in heat and humidity. These ecosystems, which are most abundant around the equator, are essential for pumping the global water cycle. They also are hubs for biodiversity and store carbon from the atmosphere. 

The environmental crisis may prove to be the greatest challenge of our lifetime. What we are seeing now is just the beginning of what could become much worse— unless we take swift, meaningful actions. 

Agroforestry presents itself as an essential piece of the puzzle in creating not just sustainable, but regenerative, solutions. 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) define agroforestry 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.”

At Cacao Source, we view cacao as the poster child species for reforestation. It thrives in a habitat that is 50% sunlight and 50% shade, meaning it can grow under the canopy of native trees that support wildlife. These shade trees could also be cashew, mango, or avocado, which can also provide food, and later, timber for building. This means greater assets to not just nature, but also the farmer.

Creating a cacao food forest becomes a bit of a puzzle. For example, you’ll first want to start by choosing the different cultivars of cacao you would like to use. Of course, the flavor is important, but so is its natural resistance to pests and diseases.

Then you’ll want to consider all of the different breeds of companion plants to choose from. I once visited a farm in Nicaragua that chose various cultivars of mango that fruited at different times of the year. Through strategic planning, they were able to extend mango season to an entire 5 months. By knowing the seasonal characteristics of each fruit tree you plant, you can ensure your forest will always be abundant in food. 

A few other notable species that co-exist with cacao include breadfruit, citrus, turmeric, vanilla, bananas, plantain, sweet potato, taro, jackfruit, and coffee. 

A greater diversity of crops actually increases the resistance to pests, hindering the need for chemicals. It also creates abundance for farmers by allowing them to feed themselves, their families, and sell anything extra to their community. 

The possibilities are endless, but the most important step is to create an open mind!

Agroforestry creates a balance between humans and nature. Instead of merely exploiting it, we are living in harmony with it. We are giving back to what we are receiving. In return, an agroforestry system will continue to recycle nutrients and water, which are essential aspects to our global climate. Most importantly, an agroforestry system will improve an ecosystem over time, increasing carbon sequestration, water storage, and wildlife. 

A great portion of beautiful, pristine forests in the world has been replaced by monoculture— meaning planting just ONE crop. This cultivation technique decreases biodiversity and fertility while increasing soil erosion and desertification. This lays the framework for a vicious cycle of scarcity and poverty as farmers grapple to increase yields through further deforestation.

Most of the cacao grown for the chocolate industry relies on deforestation and replacement by monoculture to grow cacao. And, the cacao industry is expected to rise 7% by 2030 (according to Transparency Market Research). 

This means the chocolate industry is here to stay. New techniques for growing cacao are in desperate need of being implemented. 

Here at Cacao Source, we are proud to offer cacao that grows in diverse agroforestry environments. This means that wildlife is conserved, the Earth can continue its natural processes, and abundance is returned to the farmer in more ways than purely financial. With Ecoducation we aim to go further in the studies of cacao and its role in the ecosystem.

It is our mission to continue to support farmers who grow their cacao in agroforestry settings, and in time, to offer educational resources and markets to farmers who are ready to convert from a degenerated monoculture to regenerative agroforestry.

Cacao offers so much medicine to our livelihoods. Let’s allow this medicine to be planted back in the rainforests that sustain so much of the global health of our ecosystems.

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