Amazon Wild Cacao Forest Restauration
26 November 2019
by Volker
Cacao Forest Renovation

The Chocolatales of the Iténez region are considered man-made agro-forest woodlands (see: Native cocoa agroforests of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Somarriba, CATIE 2009), which have been used since hundreds if not thousands of years. In recent history this has been lost. People started moving to nearby towns and villages leaving their homesteads near the forests. The demand for wood increased and a greater number of large trees got extracted in short time. The wood was used mainly for housing, posts for fencing to control larger grassland areas for increasing cattle herds, and electricity posts. The massive extraction led to excessive undergrowth of the second level of canopy, resulting in the increase of shade to the lower story where cacao can be found, which in turn started to grow higher and produce more shade among themselves, so less and less cacao is produced. Increasing numbers of birds and mammals, which were not hunted anymore, are damaging the cacao pods before they can be harvested.

Somarriba proposes the renovation of segregated Agroforests to start a new cycle of productivity. One method to be applied is to increase the light of the understory and the forest ground, so natural born seedlings can grow to replace adult trees (Natural regeneration of wild cacao stands in Baures, Campos 2011). It would be needed to cut certain amount of trees and palms that have overgrown and reduce larger numbers of veins that produce shade in the upper part of the canopy. Older and high standing cacao trees have to be cut back. The canopy of 25 m and higher formed by large trees, is important to conserve and to rebuild where it is lost, to be reestablish as protective shield for direct sunlight. The forest will also be enriched with native fruit trees for animals like monkeys and birds for alternative feeding sources and fine wood for future controlled wood extraction. This way the Chocolatales will regain its productivity and meet the demand for today and generations to come.

The other method is to slash and burn small degraded fallow areas that are used for temporary food production and replanting them with cacao, fruit and fine wood trees and control natural succession to lead it to an Agroforest again. There are examples in Tranquilidad and in the region to be studied and validated.

Past experiences have shown good results of undergrowth clearance resulting in higher cacao production. Tranquilidad will line out a joint project with local communities and the recently created Theobroma Foundation to regain the lost experience which should guide a new cycle of renovating. The potential and reach of the project are the 38 Chocolatales of the region with over 20,000 hectares, to make them again more productive.