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Tropentag, September 20 - 22, 2023, Berlin

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Analysing cacao productivity in agroforestry systems through the lens of social-ecological interactions: A comparison of two municipalities in Colombia

Maria Sofia Morales Guzman1, Tatiana Rodríguez2, Michelle Chevelev-Bonatti3, Stefan Sieber3

1Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
2Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany
3Leibniz Centre for Agric. Landscape Res. (ZALF), Sustainable Land Use in Developing Countries (SusLAND), Germany


Social ecological systems (SES) are composed of multiple ecological and social subsystems that continuously interact. The concept of complexity is embedded within their definition for which they are often regarded as complex adaptive systems (CAS). Cacao agroforestry systems (CAFS) are an example of SES, as they promote multiple interactions between cacao crop (Theobroma cacao) and ecological entities (wood, fruit, or cover species). CAFS provide a range of benefits such as habitat for biodiversity, and income for farmers. Therefore, they are a sustainable alternative to produce cacao, an important commodity for global trade and consumption. In Colombia, cacao is produced for the domestic market and has been managed by smallholder farmers under agroforestry systems, which counterbalances an expanding agricultural frontier that causes deforestation. But Colombian farmers often struggle due to a poor infrastructure, technical assistance, vulnerability to armed conflict, and face difficulties due to climate variability.

Therefore, understanding CAFS from a holistic perspective could support their adequate dissemination. However, their inherent complexity has challenged their study and there is much research focused on the relationships between specific components of the CAFS (percentage of shade, soils, pest management) and their productivity, failing to account for the various dimensions of sustainability. The objective of this study was to identify and analyse the socio-ecological interactions affecting CAFS productivity using a complexity approach. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 19 cacao farmers in two municipalities of Colombia: La Paz, and Belén de los Andaquíes. The interviews were transcribed and codified using the social-ecological action situation framework as a basis for data categorisation. Subsequently, we calculated centrality metrics to identify the most important interactions influencing CAFS productivity.

Results revealed 168 interactions that influence the productivity of cacao. In both regions, the interactions that have greater influence involve farmers, cacao, soil, and traders. Furthermore, cacao productivity is linked to the ecological dimension through the interactions of soil-farmer and cacao diseases-farmer. Finally, results corroborated that the social dimension is fundamental for cacao productivity because actors like traders, and local associations play an important role, because they influence the continuation of agricultural activities which eventually shapes cacao productivity.

Keywords: Agroforestry, climate change mitigation, complex systems, peacebuilding, scaling, sustainable agriculture

Contact Address: Maria Sofia Morales Guzman, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Invalidenstr. 42, 10115 Berlin, Germany, e-mail: maria.sofia.morales.guzman@student.hu-berlin.de

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