Cocoa is a very special luxury food and tastes about as varied as wine. Its origin and cultivation method has an enormous influence on both the quality of the cocoa and its taste. I would like to take you with me to the tropical homeland of cocoa, explain where it comes from and what you should definitely pay attention to when buying cocoa.

How is cocoa grown?

The cocoa tree is very picky about its location and only thrives under very special climatic conditions. As a shade plant, it is particularly at home in the humid, warm climate of the tropical rainforest and loves to grow in the lower tree layer in the shade of other plants and trees. Although most cocoa is now grown in West Africa and Indonesia, it originally comes from Latin America. here you will learn more about its origin and what makes high-quality cocoa.

What cultivation methods are there for cocoa?

Cocoa is grown in different ways, which can vary in individual cases, depending on the location/location and ownership. In general, a distinction can be made between conventional and organic cultivation. The cocoa harvest yields can vary greatly depending on the cultivation method. However, the cocoa yield per hectare generally depends not only on the cultivation method, but also on other factors, such as e.g. B. the weather influences, the cocoa variety, the size of the cultivation area, the age of the trees, the soil conditions and much more. In the following I would like to introduce you to 3 possible cultivation methods in more detail.

cultivation in monoculture

When cultivating cocoa in monocultures, only cocoa trees are planted. The trees are very close together on huge plantations, which can be up to 430 hectares in size. Due to the close proximity of the trees to each other and the lack of compensation from other plants, pests and diseases can spread faster and easier and the use of pesticides is necessary. Such large plantations are mainly found in Indonesia and Malaysia. But cocoa is also cultivated in monocultures in Trinidad, Ecuador and Brazil. In addition, when growing in monocultures, the soil is heavily unilaterally loaded, which makes heavy fertilization necessary. The chemicals used on the plantations end up in the soil and groundwater. This affects the environment and the health of local people and animals. This cultivation is also very water-intensive. The missing shade trees are replaced by nets. This makes access for animals even more difficult, resulting in less biodiversity on the plantations. After about 25 years, old trees are replaced by young trees to ensure a consistently high yield. The cocoa yield in these cultivation forms is very high (up to 3,000 kg/ha) and, unlike other cultivation methods, the highest crop yields are achieved with manual pollination. Cultivation in monocultures also affects the taste of the cocoa. The trees are under a lot of stress, if only because they are being planted so close together. As a result, the cocoa often tastes bitter and sour.

Cultivation in a simple mixed culture under shade plants

If the cocoa is grown in a mixed culture, it can share more space with another shade plant species. This reduces the stress on the cocoa plant and makes it less susceptible to pests and diseases. As a shade plant, smallholders often choose another useful plant, such as banana trees. These nitrogen-fixing tree species provide farmers with additional income or food for their own use. Organic cocoa cultivation is possible here, because cultivation with shade plants works without the use of pesticides. With this cultivation method, only low to medium cocoa yields can be achieved (about 200-1,000kg/ha).

Cultivation in agroforestry systems - a hope for the rainforest

When growing cocoa in near-natural agroforestry systems, as in our Tabasqueño cocoa, cacao is grown alongside a variety of shade trees, banana trees and other crops such as vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. The resulting structural diversity simulates a natural rainforest and offers habitats for native animal and plant species. The soil is better protected from erosion by the vegetation and the previously depleted soils can regain increased soil fertility. The larger distances between the cocoa trees reduce the risk of diseases and pests spreading. The cultivation takes place according to ecological criteria and without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. The cocoa yields per hectare are very low with this cultivation method. It is nevertheless attractive for the cocoa farmers and local farmers, since the cultivation of different food and useful plants, such as spices, medicinal plants, etc., represents a sustainable source of income and food for the population. In addition, the cocoa with the organic certification can be sold at higher prices.

Environmental protection and reforestation through cocoa cultivation

Follow us to the Mexican state of Tabasquo, the cradle of cocoa, and learn our cocoa project Selva Zoque know. Here, the agroforestry company Agrofloresta Mesoamericana, together with Original Beans, promotes the cultivation of organic cocoa in near-natural agroforestry systems. Former depleted farmland has been converted into a 40ha mixed rainforest in the last 6 years. The smallholder families of the indigenous Zoque and Tzotzil tribes are taught natural cultivation methods and the cocoa is purchased at fair prices. In this way, direct, fair trade, environmental protection and the promotion of biodiversity take place in equal measure. The aim of the Selva Zoque project is to improve the food security of local families through the mixed cultivation of diverse crops with cocoa for shade and various fruit trees, to create alternative incomes and to motivate the smallholders not to overexploit the rainforests any further through the knowledge they have acquired operate. In addition, the areas are designed in such a way that they are modeled on the surrounding rainforest in terms of structure and diversity. This creates habitats for native animal and plant species in the usable areas. At the same time, resistance to climate change, pest infestation and plant diseases is increased.

Learn more about that Project Selva Zoque and support it with your donation.

Does cocoa farming harm the rainforest?

Cocoa cultivation in intensive forms such as monocultures has strong negative consequences for the environment:
With the deforestation of the natural rainforest, we lose vital trees that produce oxygen, bind CO2 and are home to many species. Deforestation for cropland means that important habitats for many species are being lost and species diversity is being reduced enormously.

Intensive cultivation also has negative consequences for the soil. Due to the very one-sided load, the soil is extremely depleted because only certain nutrients are used. For this reason, extensive fertilization of the soil becomes necessary or the plantation has to be abandoned after a short time. By keeping the substrate free of "weeds" and bushes, the already very thin humus layer of the rainforest soil is washed away and the large plantations lose the last remaining nutrients. As a result, wind and water further erode the soil, so it has to be continuously fertilized to provide the cocoa trees with enough nutrients. A vicious circle.

In addition, pests and plant diseases spread much faster in a monoculture, which is why pesticides are used to combat them. However, these usually did not distinguish between pests and beneficial insects. Important pollinators, such as bees, also die as a result of the use of pesticides and disappear from the ecosystem. Artificial pollination of the cocoa blossoms is therefore unavoidable.

The intensive fertilization and the use of pesticides and plant protection products impairs the quality of the water and groundwater and thus affects the health of the plantation workers. These usually work without the necessary protective clothing and poisoning, allergies, irritation of the skin and respiratory tract are just some of the consequences, which are mostly long-term and irreversible.

Overview - the cacao tree

Finally, the cocoa tree introduces itself to you with a short profile.

Latin name

Theobroma cacao


Already around 1500 BC. the Olmec living in Central America used the cacao fruit and passed on their knowledge to the Maya. The Maya were the first to plant cacao purposefully around 600BC and even use the cacao beans as currency. With the conquest of America by the Spaniards in the 16th century AD, cocoa came to Europe as “black gold”. Up until the 18th century, however, the enjoyment of cocoa products was reserved for the wealthy. From the middle of the 19th century, a real boom in the chocolate industry began.


Originally, the cocoa tree was distributed from the Amazon basin to Central America. Today, cocoa is grown anywhere in the tropics where the demanding growing conditions are met. The highest production volumes come from Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The fruit

The leathery-woody cocoa pods are 10-35 cm long and weigh 200-1000 g. They are green when immature. Depending on the variety, they can turn yellow to reddish-brown when ripe. It takes about 6 months for the blossom to develop into a ripe cocoa fruit.

The beans

These lie in five rows in a whitish, sweet and sour flesh called the pulp. Up to 60 beans can grow in a cocoa pod. Each bean is about 2-3 cm long and 1 cm wide.


On average 300 kg per hectare per year. In intensive plantations even up to 3 tons.