Shade Grown Cacao // Why Should You Care?

Shade Grown Plantain Leaf

“The furrowed, football-shaped cacao pods flourish under a steamy canopy of banana trees, balsam, cedar, and other local plants. Chickens strut and cluck, and a dog naps under the house on stilts that Chamba shares with his parents and his sister.” –Washington Post, 2015.

A couple of years ago, the Washington Post published an article, describing the farming method known as “shade-grown” and described how shade-grown cacao was better for the environment.

To summarize a review of 16 studies from both Africa and South America, “shade-grown cacao promotes biodiversity (a variety of species in an ecosystem), improves soil fertility, provides a habitat for plant and animals, and creates corridors between forests that migratory birds and insects travel along.” (Washington Post, 2015)

Most large cacao growers today have opted for a more profitable single crop, clear cut, full-sun farming method that relies on hybrid varieties of cacao, as well as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can withstand the increased sunlight and hotter temperatures. Unfortunately, consumers lose in the end as the hybrid varieties lack the superior flavor complexity of other heirloom varieties, such as our Arriba Nacional.

In Ecuador, however, 90 percent of cacao production still comes from small-scale, shade-grown systems. “A 2012 study found that an increase in shade levels would not only benefit biodiversity, but also boost Ecuadorian farmer incomes. Larger shade trees reduce weed growth, cutting down on the farmer’s labor.” (Washington Post, 2015)

Having grown up in Iowa surrounded by large industrial agriculture at its finest, I can attest to the negative impact mono-cultural farming methods can have on the biodiversity of the environment. Where birds, insects and other wildlife once thrived, you rarely see another living creature. It’s haunting and shade-grown cacao shines a light in the darkness of modern agricultural.

Upriver Cacao