Colombia Maps Potential for Sustainable Cocoa Industry

Image: Pixaby

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Though Colombia is known for its coffee, the World Bank and its private sector-focused arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), have been working with the Colombian government to develop sustainable cocoa farming in the Orinoquía region. This project could support rural farmers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent deforestation, and bolster Colombia’s standing in the international chocolate market. 

Why This Matters: Cocoa farming has historically been a driver of deforestation–the Ivory Coast, for instance, which exports 2.2 million tons every year, has lost 80% of its forests in the past 50 years. The forests being razed are crucial = carbon sinks and sources of biodiversity, as cacao trees grow in rainforests, with humidity, rain, stable temperatures, rich soil, and protection from strong winds. Some studies indicate that chocolate is the least sustainable food we consume, next to meat. 

But done right, growing cocoa in Colombia can lift up rural farmers, bring down greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation, and advance Colombia’s standing in the international chocolate market.

More than 1 million hectares (ha) of Orinoquía’s forests were destroyed to create rangeland for cattle between 1990 and 2015, making cattle ranching the leading cause of deforestation.

  • The Colombian chocolate project — a collaboration between the IFC and the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL) — will encourage producers to cultivate cacao within forests rather than razing them, while also rehabilitating already-cleared agricultural land.
  • This will not only increase cocoa yields, but also replenish the soil, prevent erosion, and sequester carbon. 

A New Kind of Chocolate Production?

This project has ambitious goals — the five-year pilot will try to bring 3,000 ha of land under sustainable management, increase land productivity by 25%, and boost farmers’ sales revenue. It’ll also support farmers with new production methods and technologies to aid growers and help rural household boost their income. 

But this project is not without challenges. Over 1 million ha in Orinoquía are well-suited for cocoa cultivation, but most of this land has been reserved for cattle ranching, a low-risk option for landowners, even if the return is low as well. Colombia ranks only 10th in global cocoa production with just a 1% market share, indicating that cocoa cultivation isn’t a large part of Colombia’s economy as of right now. 

But the IFC has a plan to help provide gender-responsive training to teach smallholder farmers and producer associations how to grow cocoa sustainably.

In a blog post on the World Bank website, Maria Soledad Requejo wrote:

By adopting sustainable agriculture methods and enhancing coordination mechanisms, men and women cocoa producers will be able to increase land productivity, reduce costs, and mitigate GHG emissions—all while expanding their access to and competitiveness in international markets.“ 

Hopefully, this project will give sustainable cocoa cultivation a foothold in Colombia and introduce new practices to ensure that chocolate can be both a means of economic development and forest stewardship.


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