Across Central America and the Caribbean, old and unproductive trees, pests, diseases and changing climatic patterns are adversely impacting the production of quality cacao and forcing some farmers to abandon the crop. At present, most farmers are not renovating and rehabilitating their cacao plots or are unable to do so in a way that maximizes their production and economic outcomes. Across the region, smallholder farmers' profits from cacao production are declining due to a lack of farm-level investment in R&R and plot maintenance. These limitations are driven by price risk in addition to insufficient technical capacity, access to capital and access to reliable genetic material for planting.
There are several agronomic practices that can be implemented at the farm level to increase yields on existing plantations. For instance, R&R in cocoa should focus on pruning, replanting, and grafting. Rehabilitation, including pruning, stumping, and grafting of trees, allows for productivity improvements of plots where yields are low due to poor farm management or disease. Removing trees that are planted too close to each other is another way of allowing existing trees to reach maximum capacity. Finally, replanting trees that have passed their peak productive years raises productivity in the long term but must be combined with financing to cover farmers’ loss of income during the regrowth period.
Previous R&R programs, mainly implemented in Africa, have shown that smallholder farmer yields can be raised from 500 kg/ha to 1 ton/ha with well-managed R&R plans. The potential of R&R to substantially increase the production of existing cocoa plots should be seen as an indication that meeting an increase in cocoa demand is possible without causing further deforestation in Latin America.