Increasing sustainability in cacao production comes down to efficient use of resources and farm management, and diversification in pursuit of lowering resource use. This means that farmers need to better distribute their fertilizer and pesticides, ensuring they’re caring for trees and driving off or avoiding pests which could harm them. The use of fertilizers and pesticides is quite common on cacao plantations, especially in West Africa, which has the highest-intensity cocoa cultivation of anywhere in the world. This is expensive for farmers, even with government subsidies, and it’s harmful for the soil and can leach out to other parts of the farm, as well as causing farmers to depend upon outside inputs.
When a farmer can’t maintain or replace old trees, or the soil can no longer support them even with fertilizer and pesticides, farmers often expand into uncultivated farmland or rain forest. Countries like the Philippines are combating this and increasing annual yields by encouraging farmers to plant cacao trees underneath existing shade trees, such as coconut, to add more value to land already being used. Other countries see producers working to transform cacao waste products by making them into liquors, fertilizer, cacao tea, and recently, cacao honey or sugar. While value addition of this sort is not always possible, increasing cultivation of other crops can go a long way towards increasing income and decreasing dependence upon subsidies and familial labor.
Selective breeding of cocoa varietals and free training of farmers is another step forward for countries looking to increase sustainability in the cocoa sector. Better-educated farmers make better decisions for their farm both currently and in the future, increasing the possibility it will still exist in a few decades.