• Open Access

Cacao boom and bust: sustainability of agroforests and opportunities for biodiversity conservation


Yann Clough, Agroecology, Georg-August University, Waldweg 26, 37073 Göttingen, Germany. Tel: 00495513922358; fax: 0049551398806. E-mail: yclough@gwdg.de


Cacao cultivation holds a sweet promise, not only for chocolate consumers and cacao farmers but also for conservationists who argue that diverse cacao agroforests may be used to sustain both livelihoods of smallholders and ecological benefits such as the conservation of biodiversity within human-dominated tropical landscapes. However, regional boom-and-bust cycles are the rule in global cacao production: after initial forest conversion to cacao agroforests, sustaining production is difficult due to dwindling yields as trees age and pest and disease pressure increases. The failure to revitalize plantations often leads to a shift of cacao production to other regions. Shade removal dynamics within these cycles substantially reduce most of the biodiversity benefits. We investigate the conservation implications of these processes. Using examples from the current cacao crisis in Indonesia, we show that until now commitments to sustainability by the cacao-chocolate sector have not been successful, which endangers remaining forests. Conservation can be combined with smallholder cacao production, but if this is to be achieved, greater quantitative and qualitative efforts to halt cacao cycles are needed on the part of the industry by making use of existing opportunities to combine sustainability, carbon storage, and biodiversity conservation.