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Reforestation of Cocoa Growing Regions

I don’t know whether you caught Sir David Attenborough’s Extinction: The Facts on Sunday evening, but as the title suggests it was quite a harrowing look at the state of the world’s environmental situation, with many species facing extinction, due to the strain mankind is placing on the natural resources of our beautiful planet.

Part of what I took from it was that along with Soy, Beef, Palm and Coffee, Cocoa was identified as being a contributor to the ongoing issue of deforestation around the world. For someone who is part of the cocoa industry, I felt it helpful to take a further look at where Choc Affair sources our cocoa from and the family-owned company behind it. 

In 2014, I had the privilege of travelling to Colombia to see behind the scenes of Luker Chocolate, and what I found was a company, founded on family values, intent on doing business in a way that recognised the value of both its employees and the environment.

Necocli Colombia.

Since 2011, Luker has been working to a strategy of planting on huge swathes of land showing how it is possible to have productive and profitable large scale cocoa plantation, whilst taking care of the countries natural resources. According to a study The Global Tree Restoration Potential published in The Science “Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther, a researcher at ETH Zürich, and senior author of the study.

This strategy of reforesting the land is enabling the protection and return of species of animals and birds once thought lost and to date, Luker has improved the conservation and care of seven vulnerable species and are a signatory to the deforestation agreement Cocoa, Forest and Peace Initiative led by the World Cocoa Organisation to guarantee that they will not contribute to deforestation within Colombia in the future.

It was the first of these projects I visited during my trip – Necocli, an area of over 550 hectares of livestock rough land given to Luker by the government as a pilot. It was here, that the task of planting 600,000 new trees using an agroforestry model began.  This model is the simultaneous and integration of fruit trees, and timber yielding varieties, with agricultural crops (in this case cocoa) which allow greater yields and harvests of income-generating products at different stages, thus improving the farming communities ability to have a sustained level of income throughout the year, rather than relying on one or two successful cocoa harvests every 12 months. Agroforestry planting helps avoid the issue of soil erosion and prevents the loss of biodiversity. 

More traditional planting methods were to grow the beans in direct sunshine, clearing other trees and their canopies, so as not to compete with the cocoa trees for nutrients and sunlight within small scale farming communities – a practice historically requiring a lot of chemical fertilisers and pesticides – in turn degrading the quality of soil over time.

Agroforestry is not a new planting model but is common practice in coffee-growing regions and is proven to have clear benefits environmentally – with the shade canopy trees retaining a lot more capacity for carbon storage, which plays an important role in agroforestry ecosystems, thus benefiting the wider environment.

Necocli Agroforestry Model

In Necocli, as far as the eye could see there are cocoa trees, spectacular in scale, and when we walked through the plantation under the rich green canopies it was a sight to behold -the smaller cocoa trees sheltered by the larger spread of the Melina trees, to be harvested in years to come.

Building on the success of this pilot project, Luker have gone on to replicate the model in Casanare, with 1000 hectares of cocoa on what used to be a palm farm, and again just last year in Huila region, with a much smaller 45-hectare parcel of land.

Casanare Cocoa Seedlings Beneath The Palm

Research shows that these large scale cocoa plantations are the driving force behind rural development in Colombia and the vision of Luker is to help rural communities make the transition from illicit crop growing (coca) to the production of high yielding cocoa farms.

Evelio with his prized cocoa beans

Through a company-wide commitment to facilitate community engagement and social inclusion (especially critical in the areas of post-conflict), there is the opportunity to live a life not marred by the violence associated with growing crops for the drug gangs. This method of introducing large scale cocoa-growing within rural communities is transformational as families reap the benefits of a sustained income, training and improved educational facilities for the children and young people – the promise of hope and better future.

Don’t just take my word for it, give three minutes of your time now to watch this short clip to experience for yourself the magnitude of what I saw during my visit to Necocli. To date Luker Chocolate have replanted over 2 million trees and continue to reforest, ensuring a future for generations to come and we at Choc Affair support their community programmes with our financial investment through The Chocolate Dream – so you know when you enjoy our delicious chocolate, you too are making a choice that positively impacts future generations.

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