by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator
Deep in eastern Honduras, in an area known as the Moskitia, there are very few roads traversing miles of untamed wilderness. Unfortunately, much of that valuable rainforest is rapidly being destroyed as people clear the land to enter the cattle ranching business. The situation on the beautiful Reserve of Man and the Biosphere of the Río Plátano (known as the Biosphere) is no different, with immense swaths of clear cut forest visible everywhere on this supposedly protected piece of land. Moreover, with the rise of narco-trafficking in this remote region, many of the Biosphere’s inhabitants have increasingly limited options for income aside from joining the drug trade or participating in the destruction of the forests.
In an effort to combat deforestation and provide an alternative source of income for local farmers, we teamed with GIZ PRORENA to provide tools and technical assistance for the organic cultivation of cacao through agroforestry in the southern and eastern part of the Biosphere. We began by distributing tree bags and seeds, and helped the agricultural cooperatives establish cacao nurseries. They then carefully selected the best land to transplant the trees to, and together the community members worked to plant thousands of trees.
The incentive for protecting the forest is two-fold with cacao. On one hand, it is a high value crop, perhaps the only crop that competes with the income generated by cattle ranching. Moreover, cacao can only flourish under a mature canopy, meaning that in order for farmers to reap the value of their plants they must leave old growth trees standing.
In some areas, where deforestation has already taken a large toll, GIZ PRORENA is helping farmers create temporary shade canopies by planting banana trees alongside the cacao. Banana trees are fast growing, do not require replanting year after year, and provide an additional revenue stream for farmers. In these areas they also are planting mahogany, a hardwood tree that over time will grow and provide long-term or permanent canopy of shade needed for cocoa plants to thrive.
In 2013, the project distributed over 230,000 cacao seeds to 261 farmers and planted trees on 536 acres. We look forward to working with our partners to continue protecting this important area while helping to create livelihoods for rural families in Honduras.