Cacao Project to Regenerate a Dry Forest in Guayas- Ecuador
At CocoaSupply, we have been always pursuing and fomenting the most environmentally friendly farming practices with our small farmers. Whether it is Biodiverse Farming, helping farms to plant different crops, organic farming, or our newest project, agroforestry. At CocoaSupply we believe that invading the Amazon Rainforest with cocoa plantations is damaging the fragile ecosystem of the jungle (they call them wild, but that is not the case if you plant more trees and harvest them!). Instead, there are many areas in the country that have already plantations that can be transformed into better farming practices for the environment, and additionally, there are many areas that were once forests that can be recovered by the means of agroforestry.
Together with a young group of farmers from the Guayas, almost at the border with Santa Elena Province, CocoaSupply is promoting the recovery of a dry forest with the means of agroforestry. The aim is to recover the flora of the fauna in that area with the financial support of the cacao trees planted within the forest in the most natural, non-invasive form. The products are not only organic but help to support the costs associated with the recovery and maintenance of the forest. Areas that were already dried-up pasture land have started to bloom, and slowly Nature is claiming back her land.
But in order to understand more about it, it is important to understand the differences between agricultural practices, and how it affects the environment.
Differences Between Traditional Farming, Agroforestry, Organic Farming, and Biodiverse Farming
There's no doubt that human beings have advanced the practice of farming exponentially. The speed, scale, productivity level, and farm equipment used in many countries far surpass the labor of years past, though this fact doesn't hold true for every region.
Not only have we leaped from harvesting strictly by hand to utilizing advanced machinery, but we've also collectively improved our farming methods. In this article, we'll discuss a few different types of farming and, in the end, how it pertains to cocoa and cacao products, placing emphasis on the importance of sustainable cocoa and general sustainability along the way.
It's not uncommon for traditional agriculture to bear the definition of a somewhat primitive style of farming and food production. It typically involves standard tools, natural resources, and organic fertilizer and relies on the cultural beliefs of farmers. Traditional agriculture is the dominant food production practice utilized by around half of the world's current population.
A few characteristics tend to stick out when identifying traditional farming practices. These include:
- Heavy use of low-tech tools, such as hoes and axes
- The use of indigenous or local knowledge, even incorporating spiritual beliefs to make decisions
- Utilizing cattle raisin for fallow land
- An occasional lack of accountability or responsibility to the environment (though this does not apply to every traditional farmer)
- Subsistence farming, or lack of a surplus production
- The use of Slash and Burn or Shifting Cultivation methods
Again, a farmer can consider themselves traditional without checking every box on this characteristic list. There are a few types of conventional farming, including agroforestry, which we'll discuss later in more detail.
Traditional farming can have less than desirable effects on the environment. Standard practices, such as slash and burn (cutting down current vegetation and burning it off before planting new seeds), decrease the organic matter within the soil. The decrease in organic matter depletes fertility and nutrients in the ground, which means farmers will have to move to begin again.
Traditional farming methods are thought to contribute to deforestation and soil erosion, with different consequences showing up in various parts of the world. However, there is nothing wrong with farming traditionally, as long as it's done responsibly.
Still, when compared directly to the benefits of organic farming, traditional farming methods come off as archaic and unnecessary in the case of significantly developed countries. It's just not sustainable.
Agroforestry falls under the category of traditional farming, as it's a land-use system that incorporates the planting, conservation, and cultivation of trees into the practice of food and livestock farming. It's technically a model of land management that focuses on sustainable agricultural production methods while planting native tree species for a lasting economic benefit for farmers and their surrounding communities.
The USDA states that to earn the title of agroforestry, a farmer must satisfy the four "I"s. These include being:
From the perspective of the local community, agroforestry is a farming method that can empower smaller farmers with a reliable income while conserving the forests in areas under threat and working to eliminate hunger in rural areas globally. When local or federal governments provide sustainable training in agroforestry, there is a potential for long-term success, from middle America to rural India.
Agroforestry comes with more benefits than the ability to provide ethical cocoa or feed a community. The system continues to gain a reputation as an eco-friendly form of traditional farming, and here's why.
Healthy Crops = Healthy Trees
Unsustainable farming methods threaten trees and wildlife. With Agroforestry, crop management emphasizes support of the plant, animal, and insect ecosystem and biodiversity of a location. This protection allows farmers to leverage pollinators and enrich their yearly crops.
Livestock Shelter + Food
Trees provide natural shelter and food for livestock. While shading the animals from the UV rays, trees create grazing areas and fruit and bark for consumption. Trees can cool the temperatures within their surrounding microclimate, protecting animals from wind, rain, and various weather events.
Agroforestry encourages forest farming, allowing farmers to grow and reap the benefits of foods and herbs grown sustainably in their natural environments. Forest farming means cultivating crops such as maple syrup, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, and ginseng under the protection of a lush forest tree canopy.
Forest farmers will care for and carefully modify the existing tree canopy to create the best growing conditions for their crops. The forest can serve as a complex but natural growing environment where farmers can tend their crops without contributing to farming degradations while allowing native trees to mature.
Agroforestry focuses on preserving forests and producing sustainable, direct trade crops. Providing plenty of foreseeable eco-stability, agroforestry can provide financial value to farmers while preventing deforestation.
In recent years, organic farming has proven its ability to make a difference in how humans view and consume food. The term "organic" refers to a system of agriculture and subsequent food production in which organic farmers aim to produce quality food by methods that benefit our entire food system. Organic farming undeniably focuses on the welfare of people, the planet, animal welfare, and plant health.
As human beings face diet-related illnesses, climate change's looming threat, and a disturbingly widespread decline in wildlife, we've realized the need to drastically alter our food systems. A shift towards organic farming has made and will continue to make a significant difference.
Organic farming delivers insane benefits concerning society, the natural world, and its wildlife. Organic farmers work to satisfy strict standards, complying with regulations to ensure that their farming and food production process sustains the health of local ecosystems, soils, people, and animals.
These standards revolve around the vital principles of organic farming, including health, ecology, fairness, and care. Farmers must obtain certification to legally grow organic crops and the ability to market those crops as organic.
In practice, organic farming can look like the refusal to utilize pesticides, instead of focusing on less intrusive and safer ways to kill insects and other pests without chemicals that impact the global decline of insects resulting in a biodiversity crisis.
The Soil Association, for example, enforces organic standards to which European farmers must adhere for certification. For example, they ban all forms of weed killers and can utilize a minimal amount of naturally-derived pesticides (clove oil, citronella) as a last resort and under restricted circumstances.
The resistance to pesticides creates a natural balance between animals and plants that help control pests. After all, healthy wildlife populations can easily control pests, and organic farmers are known to invite birds and beetles to consume unwanted visitors like aphids, slugs, or caterpillars. Instead of chemicals, organic farming relies on the natural order of things.
In addition, crop rotations in conjunction with careful choices of breeds lower the risk of plant disease, and farmers manage weeds through mechanical weeding or planting buckwheat, a natural weed suppressant. In organic farming, synthetic fertilizers are unwelcome, and farmers aim to nourish plants naturally by building fertile soils.
Organic farming extends beyond crops and into the humane raising of animals for human consumption. In most cases, organic standards insist that animals remain free-range, suiting their natural behavior and eliminating the practice of painful, unnecessary mutilations.
Biodiversity in farming can create a healthy environment, ecosystem, and investment. The loss of biodiversity is a threat that reaches far beyond anything we can imagine. Failing to protect our natural resources will continue to fuel ecosystem loss. Preserving natural ecosystems within our existing farming practices is a crucial step that directly impacts nutrition standards and the production of high-quality food.
Ecological farming supports biodiversity in that it highlights working with the natural environment while avoiding chemicals and the use of pesticides. Biodiverse farms tend to rely on natural ways to yield profits and grow various crops that lead to healthier soil, decreasing erosion rates. These practices put biodiverse farming at the forefront of preventing degradation and unstable crop yields.
Various species create a stable ecosystem, resilient to challenges like natural disasters and weather events. Implementing sustainable practices that promote biodiversity can be initially costly. Still, farmers who mimic their local ecosystems with minimal land disruption typically achieve greater sustainability and crop production.
Farms around the world are developing to show promising results. Intercropping or growing several crops close together can reduce potential pests and assist the crops in utilizing their natural water systems and nutrients efficiently.
Conservation buffers can help increase biodiversity levels as they stop pollutants and stop nutrients, pesticides, and sediments from moving from field to field. Cover crops and crop rotation is another way to replenish the nutrients in the soil and prevent erosion. The use of more organic matter can promote biodiversity, allowing soil microbes to thrive, and break down into nutrients that crops absorb.
Biodiversity + Resilience
The higher the biodiversity level of a farm, the higher its resistance to climatic shifts and changes. Healthier soil makes farmland more resilient in the face of climatic pressures, and this factor is critical as climate change threats grow.
Biodiverse farms can fare far better during periods of drought and flooding, resisting soil erosion and producing quality crops when other farms cannot, which means that biodiverse farms are more reliable from a financial perspective.
Farmers allow more species to thrive, which means a higher level of naturally pollinated crops and eliminating pests without pesticides. Pollinators are essential for the growth of most crops, and biodiverse farmers are decreasing pests by increasing pest predators. The ability to not pay for pesticides means an increase in profit margins.
Farming Methods and How They Apply to Sustainable Cocoa
Farmers use various methods in the process of cultivating cocoa. In general, growing cocoa is not easy, and many cocoa beans are produced by small, family farmers that may not have access to the tools they need to maintain sustainable methods. Industry leaders believe that cocoa farmers in Latin America have quite a bit to offer regarding sustainability, diversity, quality, and production.
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) reports that the number of global cacao producers is 14 million, producing nearly 4 million tons yearly. That is a staggering statistic, and what makes it even more astonishing is the fact that 90% to 95% comes from small farmers, coming from farms with fields between two and five hectares.
Alas, the demand for high-quality chocolate continues to grow globally. Latin America produces higher quality cocoa beans than other places due to advances in farming methods and a younger, readily available workforce. In addition to quality, consumers are on the hunt for sustainable chocolate products, driving the industry standards.
Agroforestry is a significant player in the cocoa-growing game, as cocoa farmers aim to protect their trees from sun and wind while fertilizing the soil and watching for signs of stress or disease within the tree itself. Cocoa trees need proper care to yield pods, which doesn't happen until their fourth or fifth season, but they can continue to produce for up to 30 years.
As the world focuses on organic cacao as a whole, nutritious ingredient, the demand for organically grown cocoa pods and the selectivity of cacao sourcing continue to rise substantially. As a result, cocoa farmers, primarily in Latin America, have had to focus on making the shift to producing an organic, sustainable product to increase sales.
The cocoa market is relatively well-governed regarding direct trade. Though it's not always easy, many outreach programs assist farmers in conforming to new ways of doing things that can keep up with consumer demands.
When executed correctly, the growth of cocoa increases the biodiversity of the surrounding land naturally. Cocoa trees are a shade crop that can provide a home and food for the surrounding species and give shade to crops grown in close quarters. While not all cocoa (or cacao) farmers practice sustainable methods, the industry is on an upswing in the right direction.
Our Mission and Contribution
Cocoa Supply is a family-owned company that focuses on working with small, sustainable farms to bring cocoa products to the masses. We're all about minimally processed, high-quality products that pack a positive health punch for consumers while supporting positive farming methods that don't destroy the planet and surrounding ecosystems.
We develop products for bakeries worldwide, including cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter. We understand that the work of processing cocoa beans is never easy on family farmers, and as a family-owned, small business, we can identify with that fact. We're happy to do what we can to make life easier for the cocoa farmers who want to make a difference in how they grow and harvest their crops.
An effort is everything, and we believe it's unfair to request sustainability but provide no means to achieve it. At Cocoa Supply, we take out societal responsibilities very seriously, and the impact we have on small farmers and the environment is essential to us. We always ensure that our farmers are paid far above market value, emphasizing education and helping the small farming communities that we love to thrive.
Our main drive stems from our core values, and we strive daily to make this world a more eco-friendly and equal place, supporting collaborations with fellow small businesses globally. We are always focused on sustainable farming methods. If we don't have a healthy Earth, we don't have a product. Cocoa Supply fully grasps the level of our social responsibility, and we contribute both on the farm and in the factories.
- Training for eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices
- Continuous professional training for factory personnel
- Educating small farm administration
- We pay our farmers premium prices for cacao beans. In the case of special projects, such as the regeneration of the dry forest in Guayas, our premium is closer to 20%, and we are guiding them to achieve a better fermentation and quality to obtain even higher premiums.
As mentioned before, our company is currently working on a project in the Guayas Province to implement an Agroforestry program. Our goal is to help the recovery of a dry forest by introducing and executing organic and biodiverse farming techniques for the farmers in the region. We want real change, and we hope to continue to bring it by leading through example and providing the knowledge necessary to make it happen.