Cacao and coffee-based agroforestry— climate-smart adaptation for sustainable livelihoods
About the Implementing organization
Name: Ya'axche Conservation Trust
Year of establishment: 1997
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status
Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment in the Toledo District, many communities depend heavily on farming to provide for their families and supplement their income. The traditional slash-and-burn technique involves clear cutting an area of land, burning the cut vegetation, cultivating annual subsistence crops until the soil’s nutrients are depleted, then leaving the plot to regain soil fertility while the farmer moves on to another plot. Unfortunately, due to rapid population growth, the land is becoming scarcer, causing farmers to use the same plot of land for longer and return to fallow plots sooner, leading to severe soil degradation, or move to the forests in search of more fertile land. The agroforestry technique creates resilient agricultural systems that don’t deplete the soil or contribute to deforestation. Through their roots, trees hold the soil, preventing erosion, and their mulch enriches and thickens it, creating appropriate conditions for soil fauna and flora which are key to agricultural production. Fruit and timber trees’ shade prevents soil from drying and allows for the growth of cash crops like cacao and coffee, which are in high demand in Belize. By establishing diversified agroforestry systems, food and cash crop production are adapted to new variable weather conditions, as they are more resistant to drought, flooding, and disease.
Type of Action
Protection / Sustainable use
Sustainable Development Element
Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Climate action
The establishment and long-term success of an agroforestry system will not only benefit livelihoods of farmers but the environment as well. Agroforestry has been proven to reduce the effects of climate change by stabilizing erosion, improving water and soil quality and maintaining or increasing yields. The agroforestry system will help regulate climate, keeping areas cool in conditions of extreme heat, and will help buffer extreme climatic events like droughts and flooding. With proper shade management, this technique preserves and improves the integrity of forest corridors that ensure habitat connectivity across farmlands that lie between a protected area network, encouraging free movement of wildlife. The results of a recent pilot project identified 14 wildlife species (Agouti, paca, ocelots, etc.) captured on camera traps within agroforestry systems on several farms in Toledo. More research is needed to explore the role of agroforestry farms in biodiversity conservation in Belize.
Sustainable Development Impacts
Jobs and livelihoods
Nine Medina Bank families (approximately 45 individuals) now have the opportunity to develop successful agroforestry systems to supplement their income and improve their well-being. Agroforestry systems will continuously improve their livelihoods by providing short, medium and long-term income, and increasing income diversity.
The agroforestry technique not only utilizes fruit trees that provide food for the farmers’ family in the mid- to long-term, but annual crops are also be produced which will provide the farmers’ families with food in the short-term, which means farmers will be able to feed their family year after year from their plots.
Agroforestry systems help regulate local climate, buffer against natural disasters, reduce escaped wildfires by reducing usage of fire, and decrease deforestation. Not only does agroforestry help farmers adapt to climate change, it also reduces practices that contribute to climate change.
The potential for up-scaling of agroforestry is high at the community and district level in Toledo and Cayo (where conditions and communities are similar). Ya'axche promotes agroforestry as a sustainable agricultural practice to farmers throughout the area where we work. For individual farmers, it is best to adopt the method on small parcels and ensure that they successfully establish their first plots and see what inputs and efforts need to be invested in maintaining their plot and growing annual crops. As their first crops grow, they can continue establishing the system on more plots of land. Due to the market demand for cacao from Belize, this technique could be scaled up while still providing a decent income for those implementing it. In fact, Ya'axche has recently begun working with a group of farmers called the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association to establish a 350-acre agroforestry concession, the first of its kind in Belize, within the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve.
In Belize, agroforestry is a valuable technique that can be used to rehabilitate land degraded by activities like cattle ranching, commercial mono-cropping (citrus, banana) or traditional slash and burn farming. Recommendations from extensive studies in Northern Honduras (FIC and IEH 2013) state that cacao and coffee will be viable crops despite the predicted climate change variables. After an initial investment, increased levels of tree management and training will be required to avoid some of the associated impacts of increased temperature and humidity. The resilience and adaptive capacity of such systems can be further improved through the promotion of agroforestry-shade systems which incorporate valuable timber species. Furthermore, the planting of grafted varieties, which are economically productive and resilient to the predicted climate changes, will both increase adaptive capacity and generate faster production after initial planting.
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