Intercropping strategies and challenges in cacao production : a field study in Juanjuí, Peru
Abstract: In the region of San Martín, Peru, deforestation has led to a loss of biodiversity and agro-diversity. Furthermore, coca cultivation was common in the area a few years back. The Peruvian government has promoted cacao as an alternative crop to coca, which has led to an intensification of the cultivation of cacao and to cacao being the most economically important crop today in the area of Juanjuí, San Martín. Therefore, the aims of this study have been to: (1) study in which ways cacao is being cultivated in the area of Juanjuí, (2) find out for what purposes the farmers intercrop their cacao, (3) find out what challenges cacao farmers are facing, (4) look into how the farmers handle these challenges, and (5) explore if there are any differences between organically certified farmers and farmers without organic certification. Interviews and Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques with cacao farmers and key persons at the cacao cooperative ACOPAGRO, in Juanjuí, were conducted in order to answer the aims. The results showed that all of the farmers had planted shade trees in their cacao fields. Shade was also the most common reason to have other trees intercropped with cacao. However, most of the farmers also intercropped with trees for other purposes such as fertilizing effect, to restore the environment and to get wood and fruit for their families. Many different fruit- and timber tree species were used but some were more common than others, e.g. guaba, teak and mahogany. Many of the farmers also grew non-woody crops in their cacao fields, plantain/banana being the most common one. The main difference between newly established cacao fields and cacao fields in production was the occurrence of non-woody crops, which was higher in the newly established fields. Almost half of the species were grown systematically in the fields. The challenges that the farmers mentioned were lack of financial resources, uneven precipitation distribution, pests and diseases of cacao, transportation issues, lack of labourers and lack of knowledge about cacao cultivation techniques. The farmers had become members of ACOPAGRO to get access to credits and to achieve a higher price for their cacao. The droughts were handled by replacing dead plants and one of the farmers had bought irrigation systems. The farmers took several means against erosion and the fungal diseases and the pests were combated through both preventive methods and symptom treating methods. The lack of labourers for the harvest was handled through hiring day labourers and participating in the traditional labour-exchange system. There were two challenges that the farmers had not found any solutions to; how to handle flooding and how to solve the transportation issue. The organically certified farmers got higher yields and a higher cacao price than the non-certified farmers. The organically certified farmers also bought more inputs and came up with more solutions to the challenges. There were two main factors that seemed to influence the cropping systems on farm level: the crops used for intercropping contributed to increase the cacao yield or gave the farmers extra income or products for own use. ACOPAGRO most likely influenced the cropping systems since they distribute trees and give advice on managing cacao. The farmers had a good idea of how to handle the challenges connected to cacao production. In many cases lack of financial resources limited the way of handling the challenges. With more financial resources the farmers could invest in more technique and inputs. This would in turn enhance the farmers' working conditions and increase the cacao yield.
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