"I feel that with the dynamic agroforestry cocoa systems, I am on the right path to improving my work" says Fernando García, a farmer from the Barbas Cheles community in Cortés, Honduras. García went from producing in a monoculture model and burning his fields after each planting, to developing a diversified farm. Although having recently started with this system, he is already perceiving benefits, this is his story of discovery and collaboration.
The 67-year-old farmer is a member of the San Fernando cooperative. In 2020, he learned about cocoa cultivation under dynamic agroforestry systems from scratch with the farmer organisation. Since then, he changed his way of production.
With dynamic agroforestry, cocoa farms have diversity in plants so as to promote the relation between soil and plants. In that way, the respective yields are optimised, and conditions are improved for example with the production of organic crops.
Fernando manages one of the six pilot plots of dynamic agroforestry cocoa systems supported by the foundation of the Swiss chocolate company Chocolats Halba, the Knowledge Management of the cocoa value chain in Central America (GESCON) project implemented by Rikolto, and the PROCACAHO project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
"We started with six pilot cocoa plots under dynamic agroforestry and learned about their implementation challenges and advantages for organic cocoa production together with the farmers. That is the focus of Chocolats Halba," says Luis Regalado, director of the Chocolats Halba Foundation in Honduras.
"Dynamic agroforestry in organic cocoa production is sustainable because it facilitates compliance with organic certification standards. That is because of the diversity of species included and the management practices implemented on the farm, such as soil conservation, crop covering, and practices focused on reducing erosion with a high accumulation of biomass converted into organic matter. All these practices improve the production conditions of cocoa soils in Honduras," says Regalado.
“I first implemented the system with beans, corn, banana, and Canavalia, a plant used as green manure and cover crop. Now, I cultivate fruits like pineapple and mandarin, but also other crops like cassava, soursop, and timber, together with my cocoa plants”, says Fernando.
The producer indicates that he currently has 135 fruit plants, 135 timber plants, and 600 cocoa plants in each plot of 0.7 hectares.
He established this mix by using citrus, mango, guava and other species based on the recommendations by Chocolats Halba. In the field school that he attended together with other producers, he also learned about plant spacing of timber, fruit trees and cocoa.
Benancio Bonilla, a technician at Chocolats Halba: “In the dynamic agroforestry cocoa plots, they start by cultivating plants such as beans, corn, pigeon peas, cassava, pepper and ayote (pumpkin). That way, they produce grains for the producer family and incorporate biomass into the soil.”
Fernando has completely changed his practices.
“I do not burn my fields anymore. Now, I only clear weeds from cultivated land. Additionally, my soil and crop management have improved. I am also producing and applying organic fertilisers. I learned to make those with resources from the farm in the field schools provided by Chocolats Halba. But the most important thing is that in the future the organic fertiliser will be produced by the dynamic agroforestry system itself, without the need to bring it in from outside.”
The farmer proudly shows the organic fertiliser he is processing, which he made from chopped banana, chopped sugar cane, sawdust, leaves and ash.
"In the field school, we all made compost. I applied it to malnourished trees and we have already seen the improvement” says Fernando.
"We see that soil improves when organic matter is incorporated, and that is what we want to achieve with dynamic agroforestry cocoa production. The system is friendly to organic production and fits very well with what we want to develop in Honduras," says Regalado.
The dynamic agroforestry cocoa systems are also a measure to fight against climate change.
According to Regalado, they help to reduce the negative impact of drought. The greater amount of organic matter in the soil reduces moisture loss and the impact of stress on the plant is reduced.
Garcia is already earning income from the plot even though the cocoa is still in its second year of development. He has already marketed the bananas he planted to shade the cocoa: “I am motivated to expand the system on my plot, because of the benefits of having dynamic agroforestry cocoa systems and a guaranteed market for my organic cocoa thanks to Chocolats Halba.”
Since 2021, the PROCACAHO project and the Chocolates Halba Foundation, with the support of an international agency, implemented the dynamic agroforestry cocoa project on 80 hectares with 80 producers from the cooperatives.
“The pilot plots achieved the objective and served to generate capacities with the introduction of the dynamic agroforestry system to Honduras”, says Ninoska Hurtado, coordinator of the project in Rikolto.