Rainforest Reclamation with Cacao


Cattle fields that were once lush rainforest in Nicaragua are being restored with Theobroma Cacao.

For over 50 years rainforests have been tragically destroyed on a massive scale. Most people are familiar with the devastation of the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to the Amazon. Rainforests around the world are being clear cut for timber and cattle or slashed and burned for unsustainable crops. Nicaragua has not gone untouched.

In Nicaragua, the region with the lowest income is in the mountainous rainforest, where coffee has been historically grown. Farmers growing coffee live on an average of $1.66 per day, not nearly enough to support their families. Many farmers were lured to cattle in hopes of generating a more realistic income. Sadly, thousands of acres of rainforest were macheted to the ground to create cow pastures.

But the initial excitement of a lucrative cattle-based income quickly wore off due to wildly fluctuating prices, higher than expected costs, and soil erosion that led to dangerous mud slides. The farmers that enliven works with value their land and have since learned that cacao and biodiversity are more cost effective and sustainable than cattle ranching.

As their coffee plants reach the end of their lifespan, the farmers are replanting cacao instead of new coffee plants because they’ve learned it makes more sense all around. Coffee requires chemicals to promote growth and prevent pests and disease, but cacao needs only sun, water, and occasional pruning. Coffee can only be harvested 2-3 months per year, but their cacao trees produce cocoa pods that can be harvested 9-10 months per year, yet require only half the labor of coffee.

Reversing the trend of deforestation takes time and hard work, but we’re off to a good start.  Over the past three years the farmers we work with have planted over 20,000 cocoa trees across 75 acres. The nursery is thriving and continues to produce new baby cacao trees ready for transplanting to their final home.

These new cacao trees will help prevent dangerous soil erosion and mud slides that come with the rainy season. They will provide shade and shelter for a diverse array of indigenous plants and animals. And of course they will increase the earning potential of the farmers and their community.

The future surrounding bean to bar chocolate is one that each business owner and each consumer can influence. When you make chocolate with enliven cacao, or support artisan makers by eating their craft chocolate bars made with enliven cacao, you are directly contributing to reforestation, sustainable farming and livable wages. The more cacao the farmers grow, the more they sell, the more they plant, the more they grow, etc.. Eat more chocolate!

Eric Hiller