Organic cocoa production enhances smallholders' resilience
Cocoa farming is a major source of income for many families in the region of Alto Beni, Bolivia. Cocoa is cultivated on certified organic and non-certified farms. But Cocoa farming in Alto Beni is also very vulnerable to climate change, soil degradation, flooding, pests, and plant diseases. Farming systems that are more resilient to such threats are thus crucial for sustainable development in the region.
Key indicators of resilience
CDE researchers and their project partners studied key indicators of social-ecological resilience on certified organic and non-certified cocoa farms in the region. The indicators they analysed included measures of ecological resilience such as tree species diversity, crop diversity, cocoa yields, and measures of social resilience such as families’ number of income sources and annual income, their subsistence level, the number of local organisations they belonged to, the number of courses on cocoa cultivation they had participated in, and the number of information sources they had access to. The researchers also assessed qualitative aspects of resilience, such as families’ level of social connectedness and their opportunities for and interest in cultivating cocoa more sustainably. Interviews were conducted in 52 farming households to collect data on these indicators and determine each family’s level of resilience to particular threats.
Higher yields and better social connectedness
The results showed that certified-organic farms had greater tree and crop diversity than non-certified farms. Further, organic farmers had higher cocoa yields, higher incomes, exhibited better social connectedness, and participated in more courses on cocoa cultivation than their non-certified counterparts.
All of these measures suggest greater resilience among organic cocoa farmers. Local farmers’ organisations, namely organic cocoa cooperatives, were found to be crucial community-level supporters of resilience. They facilitated organic certification and promoted diversified agroforestry systems by providing seedlings and extension services. Membership in these organisations also appeared to increase some farmers’ ethical motivation to cultivate cocoa sustainably. However, the initial fees to join an organic cocoa cooperative were seen as too high by some cocoa producers, hindering some of those interested from becoming members.
Local farmers’ organisations and organic certification important
Overall, farmers’ organisations and organic certification were found to support resilience among smallholding cocoa farmers for a variety of ecological, economic, and social reasons. Ecologically, organic farms featured more biodiverse compositions of crops and trees, capable of coping better with climate fluctuations and various environmental threats. Economically, organic-certification helped farmers obtain premium prices and market access for their crops. And socially, organic farming was associated with greater connectedness among farmers as well as access to training, enabling farmers to overcome threats by banding together and sharing knowledge.