By: Fredy Monserrate, Mayesse Da Silva, Marcela Quintero

Two alliances acting for a sustainable increase of cocoa production in El Salvador. The Cacao Alliance, iniciative lead by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the inter-research area alliance between CIAT scientists from Soils Research Area, and Ecosystem Services theme from Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA) are starting a new collaboration to develop a hydrological assessment and propose water secure management recommendations for three prioritized areas in El Salvador. In this collaboration, CIAT scientists are challenged to provide clear, practical and landscape-specific assessment to identify zones with better water availability for cocoa production as well as to define soil and water management solutions needed to enhance water retention in the soil and reduce water losses by runoff. Furthermore, this inter-research area alliance has allowed standing out the strengths and opportunities for this kind of collaborative project at CIAT.

For soils and ecosystem services areas this project represents an important opportunity to support the development of a great initiative that will benefits more than 6,000 smallholders as well as go ahead with the CIAT strategy…

Of course it can be more gratifying with a good Salvadoran chocolate!!!

Cacao Alliance initiative

The El Salvador National Cacao Alliance aims to reactivate the cocoa production in the country and position El Salvador as a well-known source of cocoa for the especialty and gourmet segments of the international market. Originally from Central America, cocoa production was almost extiguided in El Salvador remaining less than 2,100 ha of land growing cocoa in the entire country.

Although cocoa production in El Salvador is not representative at international level, Cacao Alliance is working to increase the production and ensure the quality and access to markets for Salvadoran cocoa. In this sense, CIAT will support Cacao Alliance strategy by developing tools based on GIS, soils and hydrologic knowledge to assess and provide recommendations for an eco-efficient and water-secure management of soil and water at landscape level for cocoa production.

The Cacao Alliance initiative has been inplemented by Lutheran World Relief, Techno Serve, Caritas El Salvador, and Clusa El Salvador. The program financed by USAID, the Howard G Buffett Foundation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the US Department of Agriculture is carried out in collaboration with the Salvadoran government, including the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN, by their Spanish acronyms), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG, by their Spanish acronyms).

The environmental strategy of Cacao Alliance

Farmer speaks to CIAT scientist about soil cover benefits in her cacao-banana plantation

Farmer speaks to CIAT scientist about soil cover benefits in his cocoa-banana plantation.

To achieve the objectives of Cacao Alliance, two environmental and critical factors that potentially limit cocoa production needs to be carefully considered: Widespread soil degradation caused by erosion from poor agricultural practices and deforestation in El Salvador and variable precipitation patterns. Cocoa plant health is limited in degraded soil due to limited water holding capacity, limited root growth, and lack of soil fertility. All of these limit “water productivity” measured as crop growth per unit of water (rainfall or irrigation). Additionally, over the past couple of decades, precipitation has tended to be increasingly concentrated in intense storm events, rather than low-intensity rain spread over days or weeks. This change is attributable to the impacts of global climate change on the Central America. When precipitation falls in intense, more water is lost to runoff or evaporation as soils cannot hold and store water, and therefore less available for plant production via transpiration.

The alliance proposes, by means of cocoa production, to restore degraded and deforested lands through implementation of agroforestry systems, adopt environmentally sustainable farming practices that include soil and water conservation. Additionally, Cacao Alliance seeks to create partnerships among private companies, government institutions, research organizations and academic institutions, among others, to create a national cocoa institute for soil and seed research, agricultural technologies and climate change adaptability.

First steeps developed

Delci Rivera shows his Guineo – Cocoa plantation. Delci leads several farmers in the Jucuaran town

Delci Rivera shows her guineo – cocoa plantation. Delci leads several farmers in the Jucuaran town

The collaboration started last December with a visit to El Salvador. During the visit CIAT researchers had a chance to show to CRS, MARN and MAG their expertise in several topics such as hydrological modeling, payments of ecosystem services, development of GIS tools and water analysis for agriculture, water footprint, digital soil mapping, soil management and so on, including several initiatives developed by CIAT in Central America. Moreover, CIAT researchers visited new cocoa growers in the departments of Usulután and Sonsonate and recognized some challenges regarding cocoa and agroforestry systems implementation in the country mainly in steep slopes. At this moment, CIAT is working to gather and analyze the available information and in the next months, will develop an integrated soil and water assessment tool for the Cacao Alliance.

More Details:

Documents related: CRS, 2015. The El Salvador National Cacao Alliance

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