07.03.2017 |

Agroforestry and organic cacao increase income of Bolivian small-scale farmers

Organic cocoa in Bolivia (Photo: FiBL, Laura Armengot)

Organic farming and agroforestry systems not only increase the food security of small-scale farmers and biodiversity, they are also be more profitable than monocultures and conventional farming. This is the finding of a long-term study, carried out on cacao plantations in Bolivia by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in cooperation with partners. The study, published in the journal “Agronomy for Sustainable Development“, compared four different cacao farming systems in the South American country. The result was that organic farmers achieved lower cacao yields but still earned more due to by-crops in agroforestry systems and premium prices paid for organic produce.

The researchers looked at the productivity and the return on labour, that is the return per working day, of four different cacao production systems over a five-year period. They compared full-sun cacao monocultures with agroforestry systems, in which cacao trees are intercropped with shade trees and other by-crops such as bananas or plantains. Both systems were assessed under organic and conventional management. “The global demand for cacao has recently increased,” the authors write in the abstract of the study. “To meet this demand, the cultivated area has been expanded in tropical forest areas and production has intensified by replacing traditional agroforestry systems with monocultures.” This has led to a dramatic loss of biodiversity. “However, little is known about the economic differences between the different production systems,” according to Laura Armengot, the co-author of the study. Therefore, the aim of the publication was to shed light on this issue.

The scientists found that cacao yields were, on average, 41% higher in monocultures, but farmers were able to compensate for lower yields by selling by-crops derived from agroforestry such as oranges, peach palm, bananas or avocados. These crops not only made up for lower yields but also improved the food security and diets of the small-scale farmers. The study showed that the return on labour over the five years was roughly twice as high in agroforestry systems as in the monocultures, although agroforestry systems were more labour-intensive since the shade trees required more care. The researchers also found that cacao yields and return on labour were similar under both organic and conventional agroforestry systems. However, organic cacao trees growing in monoculture systems yielded 48% less compared to conventional plantations. Nevertheless, organic farmer’s return on labour was similar because they had lower costs for inputs than their conventional colleagues and were able to achieve premium prices for organic crops.

“Overall, our findings show that cacao agroforestry systems have higher return on labor,” the authors concluded. They added that more efforts are needed to develop markets for by-crops such as bananas or plantains. Farmers benefit most from agroforestry systems if they also have access to markets to sell their products. The study in Bolivia is part of FiBL’s long-term Farming Systems Comparison (SysCom) programme, which also includes research sites in Kenya and India. Recently published results showed that organic farming in Kenya can produce comparable yields to conventional systems and is more profitable for farmers after a conversion period due to premium prices. (ab)

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