From 2016 to 2023, the Cacao Forest initiative enabled 35 Dominican producers to successfully experiment with sustainable cocoa agroforestry models, leading to better biodiversity management and an increase in their income.
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Coordinated by Earthworm Foundation and the CIRAD, Cacao Forest is the fruit of a unique alliance between French chocolatiers* and research and higher education institutions**, with the support of the French Development Agency and the Terra Isara endowment fund.
The initiative, implemented in the Dominican Republic, the world's leading producer of organic cocoa, aimed to increase the income of producers and ensure the quality and sustainability of cocoa bean supplies through agroforestry.
In 2016, Cacao Forest embarked on a successful collaboration with Dominican producers associated with three cooperatives (CONACADO, COOPROAGRO, and FUNDOPO), in partnership with local institutions involved in the cocoa sector, both public (Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, IDIAF Research Center, UASD University) and private (National Cocoa Commission, ISA, UNEV, and PUCMM Universities, FUPAROCA Foundation). Together, they designed sustainable agroforestry models as alternatives to existing systems.
The project targeted more than 1,900 producers.
Dominican producers developed four agroforestry cocoa farming models, then tested (from 2018 to now) on an experimental network of 54 plots created in real conditions at 35 farms in three sub-regions, covering a practical area of 13.5 hectares, monitored and evaluated daily for over three years.
Impacts of Agroforestry on Income and Biodiversity
Results show significant benefits, including increased producer income (from less than $2,000 USD per hectare per year to over $7,000 USD depending on the models), better management of biodiversity, and diversification of income sources for the farmers.
More than 70 plants cultivated with cocoa have been identified in the Dominican Republic, leading to a selection and comparison process that targeted six high-value processed products based on bitter orange blossom, sapodilla, hibiscus flower, ginger, turmeric, and annatto.
Training at the Heart of the Project
Training for producers and technicians improved the performance of cocoa plantations (cocoa and other products) and made cocoa farming more attractive for families and younger generations.
Short and applied training in agroforestry for cocoa farming was also developed in collaboration with the Dominican UNEV University.
Transformation at a Larger Scale and Sustainable Partnerships
The Cacao Forest project worked on constructing and validating its agroforestry models by continuously and closely collaborating with local actors in the cocoa sector.
"The quality of the partnerships established resulted right from 2022 in the selection of the models developed by Cacao Forest by our Dominican partners for an ambitious national project of agroforestry rehabilitation encompassing over 172,000 hectares of Dominican plantations, named PRACAO," revealed Olivier Deheuvels, Scientific Coordinator of the project and Agroecologist at CIRAD.
This 12-year project born from Cacao Forest will be funded by a loan from the French Development Agency to the Dominican state. It is now under the umbrella of the Dominican state budget and is due to be officially launched in 2024.
"This new project will enable the rehabilitation of cocoa plantations across the country based on the agroforestry models developed by Cacao Forest, with continuous improvement and the production of solid scientific evidence, all while improving the economic resilience of families," said Sébastian Cardenas, Cacao Forest Project Coordinator for Earthworm Foundation.
It will also enable the Dominican cocoa sector to adapt to the latest standards and regulations to ensure a responsible cocoa production in national and international markets, free from deforestation and in compliance with labor rights.
Lessons Learned and Calls to Action
Cacao Forest highlights the relevance of a holistic multisectoral approach to strengthen cocoa sector resilience and ensure responsible supply, both socially, economically, and environmentally.
The project has paved the way for a new era of sustainability in the cocoa sector. These promising results call for further investments in research and development of sustainable agricultural systems for rural communities and farmed ecosystems.
*Valrhona, Ecotone, Weiss, Révillon, Voisin, Relais Desserts et Carambar & co
** Cirad, ISARA
About Earthworm Foundation
Earthworm Foundation is an international non-profit organization collaborating with businesses, civil society, local communities, and governments to reduce the environmental and social impact of supply chains. Operating on five continents, the organization focuses on restoring forests, regenerating soils, and protecting communities in production and extraction locations. Earthworm Foundation supports companies in designing responsible procurement policies and implementing environmentally and socially respectful solutions. For more information, visit earthworm.org or follow on LinkedIn.
Press contact: Raphaël Fiorese | email@example.com
CIRAD is the French agronomic research and international cooperation organization for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions. Collaborating with partners, CIRAD co-builds knowledge and solutions for resilient agriculture in a more sustainable and supportive world. It mobilizes science, innovation, and training to achieve sustainable development goals. Present on all continents in about fifty countries, CIRAD relies on the expertise of its 1,700 employees, including 1,140 scientists, and a global network of 200 partners. It supports France's scientific diplomacy (www.cirad.fr).
Press contact: Sophie Della Mussia | firstname.lastname@example.org