Farmed on over 18 million acres (7.5 million hectares) of tropical land, cocoa (Theobroma cacao) provides a means of livelihood to an estimated 40 million people, including five million farmers, 90 percent of whom are small holders, laborers and employees in processing factories. Like coffee, cocoa can be cultivated under the shade of native canopy trees and maintain a landscape similar to natural forest. This helps conserve the habitat of threatened plant and animal species, protect natural pollinators and predators of cocoa pests and creates biological corridors that maintain large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes.
Shade trees in an agroforestry system often include other species of economic value, which can reduce farmers’ risks connected with growing a single crop. However, many farmers have cut forest to open up new fields and grow cocoa more intensively without shade. This approach has short term benefits on yields and is suitable only for hybrid plants that are increasingly replacing native cocoa. Unfortunately, these hybrid plants require the application of agrochemicals and grow in open fields, which leads to increased erosion and run-off, reducing soil fertility and contributing to water contamination and health problems.
The Rainforest Alliance, in partnership with cocoa and chocolate companies, public institutions, local organizations and farmer associations, encourages cocoa farming practices that are sustainable over the long term by maintaining a healthy environment and decent working conditions.