Notes from the Field: Conserving Forests and Creating Livelihoods with Cacao

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

boys help plant cacao trees

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.

Community Voices: Carlos Humberto Gonzalez

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Carlos Humberto Gonzalez

Working with local farmers throughout Central America is an important part of grassroots natural resource conservation programs. These dedicated and hardworking individuals know the local land, watersheds, biodiversity, and soils better than anyone and they are dependent on a healthy environment for their livelihoods.

Carlos Humberto Gonzalez is one of these farmers that left a lasting impression on me and my colleagues. Carlos was born and raised on his family’s small farm, located on a hill overlooking the rural town of El Porvenir, El Salvador. Now that his mother and father have passed on, the responsibilities of running the farm are all his. He grows a variety of crops, including tomatoes, eggplant, citrus trees, corn, and coffee and depends on the land for his survival.

drip irrigationAs we toured his property, he showed us how he had created an innovative drip irrigation system for his crops using plastic soda bottles and gravity. This system saves precious water, which at the time was hard to come by due to severe drought conditions.

Through our partnership with Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo, we were able to add a touch of chocolate or cacao (Theobroma cacao) to his plot of coffee, helping to improve the soil quality and increase the biodiversity of his land. These 50 trees will also produce a high-quality product that he can sell at the local market, helping to support his family and business.

“My father would be proud of what I have accomplished with our farm and my family will be happy that I can sell more products at market. I am very happy to have these new trees.”

As we looked out over the beautiful countryside, and Carlos pointed out various landmarks in the distance, I could sense how dedicated he was to his land and his country. To support reforestation efforts in El Salvador is an honor and we look forward to supporting many more farmers in the future.

To learn more about our work in El Salvador please visit our wesbite.

Photo of the Week: Cacao makes coffe (and soil) even better!

reforestation el salvador
Don Carlos Humberto Gonzalez' plot of coffee gets a touch of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) with the help of TWP's reforestation program. We planted 50 Cacao trees on the farm of Don Carlos, a local farmer in El Porvenir, El Salvador. These 50 trees will improve the soil quality on the farm as well as produce delicious chocolate!

Learn more about our reforestation program by visiting