July 1, 2009
HSI's Cacao Program
Canopy from cacao trees serves as habitat for wildlife
Certified environmentally-friendly cacao protects wildlife while at the same time raising the standard of living for cacao producers. This is the objective of HSI’s cacao program, which is designed to train and educate cacao producers in Nicaragua and Costa Rica on basic agriculture and environmentally-friendly practices. More than half of cacao production in Central America takes place on small-scale subsistence farms of fewer than 12 acres. These small farms are also home to CITES-protected species, like the two-toed sloth, the toucan, and the howler monkey.
Teaching new techniques
As part of its cacao program, HSI, with funds from the U.S. State Department, developed a micrografting workshop for the cacao cooperative Pueblos en Accion Comunitaria (PAC). In April of 2009, HSI consultant Juana Cuaquira traveled to San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua, and led the workshop for 18 participants (technicians and producers for the cooperative), including six women.
Micrografting involves joining productive and disease-resistant stems from established cacao plants onto very young plants (on average, just 20 days old!). The result of the grafting is a new plant with the same characteristics of the grafted stem. This technique requires surgical-like precision and care, and often the women and children are most successful in its application.
A win for all
There are many advantages to the micrografting technique, including the drastic reduction of nursery time for the cacao plants, the decrease in production costs, and the establishment of quality plants with a good root system. The new micrografted plants are ready to go to the field in three to four months. Once there, the cacao plants grow into trees that provide canopy for migratory and endemic birds and homes for monkeys, sloths, pizotes and other animals.
HSI’s program is helping PAC produce 18,000 micrografted plants. These plants will then be donated to the 400 producers in the program for planting on their farms, thereby expanding the available habitat for the wildlife in and around the cacao farms. The trees will produce their first cacao pods within two years, increasing the productivity and quality of cacao. Training technicians and producers will ensure they continue grafting trees, so that as many producers as possible can renew their farms and produce more cacao and improve their income over the long term. HSI’s cacao program is a win-win scenario for both the people and the animals!