Birds and bats ensure yields for cacao farmers in northern Peru

by Claire Lubke, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
June 08, 2023

In the tropical dry forests of northern Peru, farmers grow some of the most uniquely flavorful cacao in the world. This variety is called Blanco de Piura, named for its unusual white beans and the region that overlays its biological range, which is very near the site of cacao’s ancient origins. Around the globe, chocolatiers admire this fine flavor cacao, but the locals also sing its praises – including the birds, bats, ants, squirrels, and many other species who are frequent visitors of cacao agroforestry systems.

The conventional model of growing cacao in monocultures favors yield on the short-term, but it’s also fragile, wrought with ecological and economic risks for small farmers. One reason for this is that cacao is an understory plant, but in the conventional model, it’s grown without the shade it relies on in its early development. When cacao is the lone plant in this model, resources are limited for the bugs and other critters that otherwise would be supported and balanced by an entire forest ecosystem.

Cacao agroforestry, distinguished from the conventional methods by the presence of accompanying trees next to cacao, is part of CGIAR’s Nature-Positive Solutions Initiative, or NATURE+. Practitioners of cacao agroforestry plant a variety of trees side by side—some for timber, some for fruit, and some that support wildlife. But the last of these isn’t merely a sacrifice for the sake of biodiversity; NATURE+ researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT have found that farmers actually benefit from working with other creatures that call the forest home.

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