Wednesday 27 September 2023

Cacao Forest

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The project

Respecting earth and people

Cocoa Forest innovates for tomorrow’s cocoa farming.

This project, led by a group of NGOs made of engineers, agronomists, cocoa manufacturers and Relais Desserts, wants to find an alternative to intensive cocoa farming, which is escalating and seems to unavoidably be dominating.

Cocoa Forest wants to prove that agro-forestry farming, the traditional way of growing cocoa, will be in the long term the only alternative to intensive farming and the guarantee of a quality cocoa bean respecting earth and people.

Cocoa Forest is an ambitious project.

Even if today agro-forestry seems like David versus Goliath (intensive mono-culture), we are strong believers in the importance and the relevance of participating in such a project and to see it to fruition.

To know more about our project, visit the Cacao forest website.

The crux of the project

And what if agro-forestry was the solution?

Chocolate makes children’s eyes light up and excites gourmets’ taste buds. It is rare to find an ingredient that generates such a planetary consensus! Nevertheless, at the origin of chocolate, cocoa farming is not always a fairytale.

During the last few decades, chocolate consumption has greatly increased. Cocoa has become a speculative commodity, handled like a financial product, increasingly separated from its nature of cultivable plant.

Intensive farming has grown with the terrible side effects we know: soil depletion, deforestation, lower bean quality and variety diversity and finally, great financial difficulties for small growers. The ambitious idea of Cocoa Forest was born to protect the quality cocoa production sector but also to ensure the sustainability of small producers by making them more productive, therefore autonomous and of course all the while protecting the environment in a long-lasting way.

And what if agro-forestry was the solution?

In order to find an alternative to intensive cocoa farming, Cocoa Forest intends to develop agro-forestry. This traditional way of growing cocoa combines several varieties of plants inside the cocoa plantation. Just like permaculture, agro-forestry creates a sort of symbiosis within which the diversity of the whole helps each one.

This way of traditional farming is still widely used in small plantations but it is far from being optimized. Therefore the cocoa production is extremely inferior to the one of the monoculture intensive plantations.

So, the project’s goal is to prove that agro-forestry is the sustainable and responsible solution to intensive cocoa farming.

It respects the soil, the environment and guarantees the producers autonomy and a certain living wage.

The other plants grown on the plantation may generate some revenues for the farmers as well (such as heating wood, fruits, etc.) Thus, the producer is no longer dependent on the sole production of cocoa and his revenues are no longer season-based.

Find all the monthly project advancements on the field in our “news” pages.


A slew of unprecedented players

Started in 2015, Cocoa Forest unites a fantastic panel of the cocoa and food-processing sector players.

Cocoa Forest is run by a Scientific Interest Group (Groupement d’Intérêt Scientific or GIS) composed of :

  • CIRAD: Center for agronomic research
  • L’ISARA: Superior Institute for Agronomic Studies of the Rhône-Alpes Region
  • TFT (The Forest Trust): Swiss NGO, which works on a better worldwide eco-system
  • Investors who work directly with the cocoa sector: Alter-Eco, Bonneterre, Relais Desserts, Révillon, Valrhona, Weiss.

The GIS members meet 4 times a year during “COPIL” (Comités de Pilotage). As a member, Relais Desserts participates in the COPILs in order to be up to date on the progress of the project and participate in the decision-making process.

So, Relais Desserts is an active member of this project.

Actions in the field

Concrete and transposable headway

The project started in the Dominican Republic and should soon move onto Peru.

Today, 2 experts have been appointed on a full time basis in the Dominican Republic, just for Cocoa Forest:

Martin, of CIRAD, who is specifically in charge of the agronomical aspects, production techniques and cadastral plots… Alexandre from TFT coordinates the sales and logistical aspects of the project.

The project has three major components:

An agronomical focus:

  • Analysis of the existing cocoa plantations (density, variety, age and tree trimming, species that co-exist on the plantation) and the actual production
  • Protocol elaboration of agro-forestry tests
  • Follow-up on the tests, adaptation and recommendations

A sales focus:

  • The stakes of agro-forestry are for the growers to live comfortably from their harvests.
  • To help the growers find sales solutions for the plantation production: fruit sales at open markets, production of heating wood, sales to local industries to make fruit juice and smoothies.

A human focus:

  • The project is built around the idea of helping producers but in no way to impose on them methods from elsewhere.
  • Cocoa Forest has the ambition to make producers autonomous, allow them to unite in order to make joint decisions and have more leverage when they organize as cooperatives.

At the end of July 2017, Cocoa Forest negotiated partnership contracts with three Dominican Republic producers’ cooperatives, which represent 72 plots situated in key regions to implement testing of productive agro-forestry.