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

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

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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.

Notes from the Field: Foundations for a Sustainable Future in Honduras

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

clear cutting Honduras

It’s a strange and heavy burden you feel when you’re travelling through what is meant to be the second largest contiguous rainforest in the Americas, and you see more cattle than wildlife, more slash and burn desolation than old growth, and few signs of land-use planning or enforcement of regulations meant for protected areas.  The Reserve of Man and Biosphere of the Río Plátano in Eastern Honduras is part ecological gem, part three alarm fire, with pristine jungle being continually converted to ranch land, to provide income to a continuously growing population of colonists from around the country.

Rio Platano Biosphere map
Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is fortunate to have both access to the communities of the Biosphere, and the support of a team of dedicated individuals determined to implement a combination of programs that would create alternatives to the current norm in this remote, off-grid region of the country.  The common ingredient in all of our proposals is sustainable livelihoods – identifying appropriate, income generating activities that are as or more lucrative than cattle ranching, and which are restorative rather than destructive.

Appropriate technologies like clean cookstoves and solar lights make life for rural families of Honduras better.
Appropriate technologies like clean cookstoves and solar lights make life easier for rural Hondureños.

Through simultaneous investments in promoting shade-grown cacao, coffee and maya nuts with partner GIZ PRORENA and training entrepreneurs to sell affordable solar lighting technologies and clean cookstoves with partners AHDESA and USAID ProParque, we are stimulating activities that result in forest conservation, environmental education and income diversification – three foundations on which we can begin to build a more sustainable future for the Biosphere.

This challenge, however difficult, is always made easier with the support of TWP’s indefatigable donors and followers.  This is our North American Amazon, the lungs of our planet, and a treasure worth protecting for our collective benefit.

Please visit to learn more about this and other projects, and to donate in support of creating alternative livelihoods for the inhabitants of this fragile ecosystem.

Visiting with families who are utilizing solar to light their homes.
Visiting with families who are utilizing solar to light their homes in rural Honduras.