By Cristina Fernández Pereda
Chocolate could save the most endangered forests in Brazil according to study published by the World Watch Institute. Its authors confirmed that cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate, could be cultivated to re-establish the most distraught parts of the Atlantic Forest.
The cultivation of cacao would thrive in the Brazilian forest for two reasons. First, there are many species of great height in this tropical forest and cacao grows well in the shade. In fact, it needs it. The second reason lies in its potential for conservation. It is not necessary to eliminate other existing species and thereby lose natural resources to cultivate cacao.
The Atlantic Forest occupies the largest part of the Brazilian coast and constitutes 13% of the national territory. 476 different species of trees have been found in one hectare, the greatest level of diversity in the world. However, only 7% of the original ecosystem remains.
Brazil produces 6% of the world’s production of cacao. In 1983, it was the world’s second largest producer, behind the Ivory Coast, with 24% of total production. About 80% of its production is grown in the Bahia region, in the northern zone of the Atlantic Forest. The majority of cacao is cultivated through an agricultural system called Cabruca—on the surface of the forest, in the shade of taller species, small cacao trees are planted that later can support the weight of the fruits. This system is used in other countries but Brazil has the largest “chocolate forest” in the world.
But, this type of forest is failing. The help is not enough to replace the taller trees that die. In the 90s, an epidemic in cacao plantations caused a decrease in the price on the international market. The landowners had to change the system to other more lucrative techniques. The crisis left 90,000 people unemployed.
Now that the prices have risen again and new methods to combat the epidemics have been found, the authors of the study recommend a return to the Cabruca system, adapted to current conditions. They want the restoration of the forest to be valued above the business of massproduction. The cultivation of cacao along with other species implies a slow rhythm and long term benefits. But, they don’t want to fall into patterns that the world market establishes.
The chocolate business generates $60,000 million per year. Multinational companies control 80% of the market. These benefits do not take into account the depletion of lands’ resources or if they reduce employment in the region. The rhythm of the international market makes it difficult to see the needs of an ecosystem as priorities.
The social aspirations of the study consist in creating a stronger rural economy. The cultivation of cacao would generate employment in the local environment and would contribute to the development of other forms of ecological commerce, such as eco-tourism, in addition to fighting against deforestation. Brazil could begin to orient its chocolate consumption towards the restoration of the Atlantic Forest.