Fruit from cacao plants native to Peru.
Photo: ©Teja Tscharntke/Göttingen University

Higher prices with local cacao varieties

Cacao has been cultivated in the western Amazon since prehistoric times, and the area is a valuable resource for the genetic diversity of cacao plants. Local varieties help boost biodiversity and produce fine-flavoured cocoa.

Small farmers in the western Amazon could demand higher prices if they focused on indigenous cacao varieties that produce better-tasting chocolate rather than high-yielding but low-quality cacao. This is the recommendation of an international team of researchers led by the University of Göttingen in February 2023. In addition, indigenous varieties could adapt better to the local climate and growing conditions. Further benefits include promoting local biodiversity and ecosystem services such as pollination and biological pest control.

More than six million smallholder farmers who live on less than two dollars a day rely on growing cacao in the tropics. How can the system conserve biodiversity while securing the economic livelihood of its producers? By cultivating indigenous cacao varieties, there are opportunities for developing a more biodiversity-friendly and productive land use system. 

However, the potential genetic diversity of wild, native cacao plant populations originating from Peru and neighbouring countries is at risk due to the introduction of modified crops and the destruction of forest sites. There has also been a lack of resources to protect the remaining genetic diversity.

Plantations of non-indigenous cacao varieties have been successfully converted to agroforestry that produces fine-flavoured cocoa. These experiences, alongside rejuvenation by grafting plants, have shown that a smooth transition is possible – with only minor and short-term losses in productivity. 

The international team – which includes researchers from Germany, Austria and Peru – concludes that the current interest in high-quality, indigenous cacao in countries like Peru is a new challenge that could deliver benefits for society, ecology and conservation.


Read more on the Göttingen University website

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