Sustainable neighbours: how farmers in Ecuador manage trees for shade and other purposes
American Cocoa Research Institute; United States Department of Agriculture, International Program
Cocoa growers' associations in Ecuador
Problem/Issue. There has been a renewed interest in mixed cocoa cropping systems, where farmers manage a variety of trees amongst their cocoa plantings. Various studies have described the ecological role of these trees and the influence they have on cocoa management, but there is little direct information from farmers. We investigated the reasons for growing cocoa with 'shade trees' through a series of extended interviews with growers in several regions of the main cocoa producing areas.
Measures to Date. Our most important discovery was that farmers manage trees with cacao for products - such as fruits - and ecological services. This is rather a grand way of saying that the trees provide leaf litter for improving soil structure and fertility, while the root structures and canopies help to regulate water within the cocoa gardens. What was most surprising, was the discovery that shade was the least important reason for having these trees. This helped to explain why the most important 'shade' tree we found was citrus! Not exactly a tree with a canopy designed to give lots of shade. The study emphasised that attempts to improve 'shade management' should carefully consider the role of other trees in cacao gardens. Efforts to improve shade are unlikely to succeed in Ecuador, and this is one reason why we have proposed the term 'neighbour tree'.
Project Activities. We used our experience of working with farmers and local associations to develop a multidisciplinary team of scientists. The original point of interest was in the health of neighbour trees, but we soon found out that this was of minor importance to farmers, and there was little scientific evidence to suggest hidden problems. We were able to modify the original investigation and reveal new facts about cocoa management that do not appear to have receive much attention - perhaps because scientists are good at studying plants and not people?. To download a PDF of "Cacao & Neighbour Trees in Ecuador - how and why farmers manage shade trees for shade and other purposes", click here.
Achievements So Far
Listening to farmers provides new knowledge and evidence of how real agriculture takes place. The surveys showed that talking to farmers is relatively easy, but making sense of what you are told is much more difficult. We believe that the role of other trees in cacao gardens is different from that commonly reported by scientists. Paying closer attention to farmer practices suggests new ways of improving systems
We hope to continue the surveys in another cocoa producing country - Peru is one suggestion - and to test our hypothesis concerning neighbour trees. We want to develop better collaboration with extension officers and to include training exercises in acquiring and interpreting local knowledge.
Dr Eric Boa (Co-ordinator) email@example.com
Start date: January 1999
End date: July 2001