Agroforestry systems for sustainable cocoa farming in the Lachuá Ecoregion

Publicado: 14 Julio 2022
Última edición: 14 Julio 2022
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An estimated 30-40 per cent of annual household income in Guatemala is derived from forest products. Cocoa production was recognised as an economically viable alternative for job creation and increased local income, underscoring its economic, social, environmental and cultural value. As a native species typical of the region and high in yields and quality, cocoa had high potential to advance the economic and social development of producers and communities, particularly women and youth of the Q'eqchi' ethnic group. The intervention employed a Nature-based Solution in the Lachuá Ecoregion that supported 170 cocoa producers in an area of 303 ha and aimed to intensify cocoa production based on sustainable agroforestry management approaches that would not only contribute to local livelihoods, but also improve conservation and biodiversity outcomes through forest landscape restoration.


América Central
Scale of implementation
Actores locales
Financiación sostenible
Incorporación de la perspectiva de género
Institucionalización de la biodiversidad
Manejo de bosques
Medios de vida sostenibles
Poblaciones indígenas
Servicios ecosistémicos
Standards/ certification
Other theme
Nature-Based Solutions
sustainable business models
value chains
Degradación de tierras y bosques
Pérdida de la biodiversidad
Pérdida de ecosistemas
Falta de acceso a financiación a largo plazo
Falta de oportunidades de ingresos alternativos
Falta de capacidad técnica
Sustainable development goals
ODS 1 - Fin de la pobreza
ODS 3 - Salud y bienestar
ODS 8 - Trabajo decente y crecimiento económico
ODS 10- Reducción de las desigualidades
ODS 12 - Producción y consumo responsables
ODS 15 - Vida de ecosistemas terrestres
Aichi targets
Meta 1: Aumento de la sensibilization sobre la biodiversidad
Meta 2: Valores de biodiversidad integrados
Meta 4: Producción y consumo sostenibles
Meta 7: Agricultura, acuicultura y silvicultura
Meta 14: Los servicios ecosistemicos
Business engagement approach
Compromiso directo con asociaciones
Indirecto a través de instituciones financieras
Indirecto a través del gobierno


Guatemala | Lachuá Ecoregion, Municipalities of Ixcán, Quiché and Chisec


Poverty is a major challenge in the region and land-use changes have affected biodiversity and caused degradation. An assessment of livelihood options that provide economic, social and environmental benefits identified cocoa agroforestry systems as the most desirable option, also due to cocoa’s cultural value for Q'eqchi' Mayans. Cocoa was used as a form of currency and to prepare food and drink. Therefore, the main societal challenges addressed by the Nature-based Solution were economic and social development as well as environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Through the intervention, income from cocoa agroforestry systems and access to international markets and value chains positively affected the livelihoods of producers.


Q'eqchi' Maya ethnic group, 898 producers and technicians

¿ Cómo interactúan los building blocks en la solución?

The building blocks highlight a number of key insights that emerged from the assessment of the Agroforestry systems for sustainable cocoa farming intervention against the criteria and indicators of the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutionsᵀᴹ. While they do not give a full picture of what can be considered a Nature-based Solution as all criteria in the Global Standard are of equal importance, they illustrate some of the factors that made the project particularly successful. The lessons learned from experiences in the Lachuá Ecoregion resulted in a follow-up project with activities in a number of sites in Guatemala, involving 1,000 producers and achieving the restoration of 776 ha of land. In addition, the government defined a national goal of 15,000 ha of land to be dedicated to cocoa agroforestry systems.


The main positive impacts of the introduction of agroforestry systems for sustainable cocoa farming include the improvement of ecosystem services in previously degraded areas included soil retention, forest connectivity and carbon sequestration, among others. This had particular significance in the buffer zones of the Laguna Lachuá National Park and a Ramsar site. One of the key success factors of this intervention was the long-term support from IUCN and other initiatives, leading to good governance of local communities at several levels (e.g., the creation of Fundalachua, an IUCN Member, as a second level organisation). In addition, the close coordination with public programmes and investment as well as the reliance on good agricultural and manufacturing practices with a focus on building human capital and capacities, infrastructure, equipment or supplies, ensured sustainability over time. These elements allowed Fundalachua to lead the export of high quality cacao to several markets in South Korea and the USA among others. The intervention helped reduce poverty and strengthened livelihoods of local communities, mostly belonging to the Indigenous Q'eqchi' ethnic group. It contributed significantly to restoring degraded areas outside the protected areas (in the ecoregion) and reduced threats to the Laguna Lachuá National Park.


Julio Serrano / IUCN ORMACC

Traditional cultivation of cardamom, low quality cocoa and mono-cropping practices of maize were commonplace in Guatemala. They were characterised by limited agricultural practices (clearing, harvesting and low densities), basic processing practices, individualised washing and drying, indirect, individual marketing through intermediaries and a lack of certification. Such traditional practices caused degradation, loss of soil health and negatively impacted biodiversity. The local government and local communities recognised that changes would be necessary to overcome poverty and accelerate social and economic development in the region. The idea of an innovative agroforestry system was born. It was important that such a system would not only promote sustainable practices, but also open new avenues for local communities to engage in the entire value chain from production to processing to accessing international markets.


The innovative cocoa agroforestry model agreed with local communities focusses on high quality trees, good agricultural practices (shade, pruning, harvesting, fertilisation, new planting densities), and good processing, fermentation and drying practices. The fact that producer associations now manage production and processing in centralised collection centres opened the doors for collaboration and logical links between the various steps in the value chain. Direct and collective marketing increased access to international markets and consequently increased local incomes. The award of the USDA Organic Certification testifies the quality and high value of cocoa products coming from Guatemala.


The greatest impact was seen in local communities, especially women of the Q'eqchi' ethnic group, who are the winners  of the innovative agroforestry system for sustainable cocoa farming. In the words of cocoa producer Yasmina Chen Coc: "We had cocoa as something cultural, for consumption at home and to sell in small quantities. It seemed that cocoa was not important, but then we realized that cocoa brings us a lot, it brings me a lot when I sell my cocoa as slime, as beans and it also brings me a lot when I transform it into handmade chocolate. Sometimes we start talking with my husband and I tell him ‘have you noticed how our life has changed, when the cardamom production ends, the cocoa harvest comes, when the cocoa harvest ends, the corn harvest follows, so we always have our income.’"

Contribuido por

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Kristin Meyer International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Other contributors

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Erick Ac
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)