Marginal effects on biodiversity, carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling of transitions from tropical forests to cacao farming systems


Cacao (Theobroma cacao), a perennial crop predominantly cultivated as a multi-product and multi-strata agroforestry system, has been identified as one of an array of factors behind land use changes in the tropics. Concerns have also been raised about the gradual shift from traditional cacao growing systems under diverse and dense tree canopy to lower or no-shade cover, leading to further loss of direct and functional forest ecosystem values such as protective and regulatory environmental services. This paper surveys existing literature and focuses on changes to biodiversity, carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling conditions due to a transition from natural forests to traditional lower-density agroforestry and high-density hybrid monoculture cacao systems. We derive marginal effects on selected ecosystem functions expressed as a percentage unit change in corresponding ecosystem values from a natural forest baseline scenario. Data from 16 studies conducted in Africa and the Americas show a negative trend in marginal changes in above-and below-ground carbon sequestration potential for the two cacao farming systems. The extent of marginal losses in carbon storage was comparatively higher for the monoculture than cacao agroforestry system. A general trend denoting positive marginal changes has been reported for mean species richness in soil and litter and some essential chemical and physical soil properties (Calcium, Magnesium, sand and silt) of cacao agroforestry systems compared with a natural forest baseline. The balance between negative and positive changes show that traditional cacao agroforestry systems have greater potential for conservation of ecosystem services closer to a natural forest state than monocultures.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  1. Achard F, Eva HD, Mayaux P, Stibig H-J, Belward A (2004) Improved estimates of net carbon emissions from land cover change in the tropics for the1990s. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 18:GB2008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Afari-Sefa V, Gockowski, J, Fredua AN, Dziwornu AK (2010) Economic cost-benefit analysis of certified sustainable cocoa production in Ghana. Paper submitted to 3rd conference of African association of agricultural economists, Africa and the global food and financial crisis, Cape Town, 19–23 Sept 2010

  3. Albrecht A, Kandji ST (2003) Carbon sequestration in tropical agroforestry systems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 99:15–27

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Angelsen A (1999) Agricultural expansion and deforestation: modelling the impact of population, market forces and property rights. J Dev Econ 58(1):185–218

  5. Anglaaere LCN, Cobbina J, Sinclair FL, McDonald MA (2011) The effect of land use systems on tree diversity: farmer preference and species composition of cocoa-based agroecosystems in Ghana. Agrofor Syst 81(3):249–260

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Asare R (2006) A review of cocoa agroforestry as a means for biodiversity conservation. Paper presented at world cocoa foundation partnership conference. Brussels. May 2006

  7. Asase A, Ofori-Frimpong K, Hadly P, Norris K. (2008) Carbon storage and the health of cocoa agroforestry ecosystems in Ghana. Paper presented at CarboAfrica project science conference on Africa and carbon cycle, Accra, 25–27 Nov 2008. (

  8. Barbier BE (2004) Explaining agricultural land expansion and deforestation in developing countries. Paper prepared for the principal paper session, “Panel Data Evidence on Economic Development and the Environment in Developing Countries” at the 2004 American Agricultural Economics Association annual meeting, 1–4 August 2004, Denver. Am J Agric Econ 86 (5):1347–1353

  9. Barbier BE, Burgess CJ (1997) The economics of tropical forest land use. Land Econ 73(2):174–195

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Beer J, Muschler R, Kass D, Somarriba E (1997) Shade management in coffee and cacao plantations. Agrofor Syst 38:139–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bobo K, Waltert M, Sainge NM, Njokagbo N, Fermon H, Muhlenberg M (2006) From forest to farmland: species richness patterns of trees and understorey plants along a gradient of forest conversion in southwestern Cameroon. Biodivers Conserv 15:4097–4117

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Clay JW (2004) World agriculture and the environment: a commodity-by-commodity guide to impacts and practices. Island Press, Washington DC, p 570

  13. Colwell RK (2009) Estimates: statistical estimation of species richness and shared species from samples, version 8.2. Persistent (

  14. da Silva Moço MK, Gama-Rodrigues EF, Machado RCR, Baligar VC (2009) Soil and litter fauna of cacao agroforestry systems in Bahia, Brazil. Agrofor Syst 76:127–138

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Deheuvels Avelino J, Somarriba E, Malezieux E (2011) Vegetation structure and productivity in cocoa-based agroforestry systems in Talamanca, Costa Rica. Agric Ecosyst Environ. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.003

  16. Delabie JHC, Jahyny B, Nascimento IC, Mariano CSF, Lacau S, Campiolo S, Philpott SM, Leponce M (2007) Contribution of cocoa plantations to the conservation of native ants (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Formicidae) with a special emphasis on the Atlantic Forest fauna of southern Bahia. Brasil Biodivers Conserv 16:2359–2384

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Didier B (2004) Beyond tropical deforestation: from tropical deforestation to forest cover dynamics and forest development. UNESCO/CIRAD, Montpellier. pp 488 ISBN-UNESCO 92-3-103941-5

  18. Duguma B, Gockowski J, Bakala J (2001) Smallholder cacao (Theobroma cacao Linn.) cultivation in agroforestry systems of west and central Africa: challenges and opportunities. Agrofor Syst 51:177–188

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Foley JA, DeFries R, Asner GP, Barford C, Bonan G, Carpenter SR, Chapin FS, Coe MT, Daily GC, Gibbs HK, Helkowski JH, Holloway T, Howard EA, Kucharik CJ, Monfreda C, Patz JA, Prentice IC, Ramankutty N, Snyder PK (2005) Global consequences of land use. Science 309:570–574

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Food and Agriculture Organization (2000) Population and the environment: a review and concepts for population programmes. Part III: Population and deforestation FAO Population Programme Service (SDWP) ( Accessed 5 July 2014

  21. Food and Agriculture Organization (2003) Forest and climate change; instruments related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and their potential for sustainable forest management in Africa. Accessed 5 July 2014

  22. Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) The future of forests in Asia and the pacific: Outlook for 2020. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, pp 641. ISBN 978-92-5-106205-0

  23. Food and Agriculture Organization (2010) Global forest resource assessment report.

  24. Gama-Rodrigues EF, Nair PKR, Nair VD, Gama-Rodrigues AC, Baligar V, Machado RCR (2010) Carbon storage in soil size fractions under two cacao agroforestry systems in Bahia, Brazil. Environ Manag 45:274–283

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gama-Rodrigues EF, Gama-Rodrigues AC, Nair RPK (2011) Soil carbon sequestration in cacao agroforestry systems: a case study from Bahia, Brazil. In: Kumar BM, Nair PKR (eds) Carbon Sequestration potential of agroforestry 85 systems: opportunities and challenges, Advances in agroforestry 8. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-1630-8_5

  26. Gbetnkom D (2005) Deforestation in Cameroon: immediate causes and consequences. Environ Dev Econ 10(4):557–572

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Geist H, Lambin E (2001) What drives tropical deforestation? A meta-analysis of proximate and underlying causes of deforestation based on sub national case study evidence. Land-use and land cover change (LUCC) report series no. 4. LUCC International Project Office, Louvain-la-Neuve

  28. Gillenwater M (2012) What is additionality? Part 2: a framework for more precise definitions and standardized approaches. Discussion paper (version 03). Accessed 10 Jan 2013

  29. Gockowski J, Sonwa D (2008) Biodiversity and smallholder cocoa production systems in West Africa. Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) Working Paper Series 6. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Accra, Ghana, p 21

  30. Gockowski J, Sonwa D (2011) Cocoa intensification scenarios and their predicted impact on carbon dioxide emissions, biodiversity conservation and rural livelihoods in the Guinea Rain Forest of West Africa. Environ Manag 48:307–321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Gockowski J, Tchatat M, Dondjang JP, Hietet G, Fouda T (2010) An empirical analysis of the biodiversity and economic returns to cocoa agroforests in southern Cameroon. J Sustain For 29:638–670

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Guiracocha G (2000) Conservacion de la biodiversidad en los sistemas agroforestales cacaoterosy bananeros, Talamanca, Costa Rica. Tesis Mag. Sc., Turrialba, Costa Rica. CATIE, Cartago, p 125

    Google Scholar 

  33. Guiracocha G, Harvey C, Somarriba E, Krauss U, Carillo E (2001) Conservation de la biodiversidad en sistemas agroforestales con cacao y banana en Talamanca, Costa Rica. Agroforesteria en las Americas 8(3):7–11

    Google Scholar 

  34. Hartemink AE (2003) Soil fertility decline in the tropics: with case studies on plantations. ISRIC-CABI Publishing, Wallingford

    Google Scholar 

  35. Hartemink AE (2005) Nutrient stocks, nutrient cycling, and soil changes in cocoa ecosystems: a review. Adv Agron 86:227–253

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. International Cocoa Organization (2014) Monthly averages of daily prices (US$/tonne). Accessed 15 May 2014

  37. Isaac ME, Erickson BH, Quashie-Sam S, Timmer VR (2007a) Transfer of knowledge on agroforestry management practices: the structure of farmer advice networks. Ecol Soc 12(2):32

    Google Scholar 

  38. Isaac ME, Timmer VR, Quashie-Sam SJ (2007b) Shade tree effects in an 8-year-old cocoa agroforestry system: biomass and nutrient diagnosis of Theobroma cacao by vector analysis. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 78:155–165

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Keith H, Mackey BG, Lendenmayer DB (2009) Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world’s most carbon-dense forests. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (PNAS) 106(28):11635–11640

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kotto-Same J, Woomer PL, Moukam A, Zapfack L (1997) Carbon dynamics in slash-and-burn agriculture and land use alternatives in the humid forest zone of Cameroon. Agric Ecosyst Environ 65(3):245–256

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Leakey R, Tchoundjeu Z, Schreckenberg K, Shackleton SE, Shackleton CM (2005) Agroforestry tree products: targeting poverty reduction and enhanced livelihoods. Int J Agric Sustain 3:1–23

  42. Leplaideur A (1985) Les systèmes agricoles en zone forestière, les paysans du Centre et du Sud-Cameroon. IRAT, Yaoundé, Cameroon, p 615

  43. Meyerson F (2004) Population growth and deforestration: a critical and complex relationship. Population Reference Bureau, Washington. Accessed 5 June 2014

  44. National Research Council (2000) Watershed management for potable water supply: assessing the New York City strategy. National Academy Press, Washington, p 530

    Google Scholar 

  45. Niamir-Fuller M, Kelly R, Biggs J (2007) Carbon finance and the Millennium Development Goals: potentials, opportunities and barriers. In: Mitigating climate change through restoration of degraded land. Proceeding of the international forum celebrating the centenary of conservation and restoration of soil and vegetation in Iceland 13st Aug–4th Sept 2007

  46. Noble IR, Dirzo R (1997) Forests as human-dominated ecosystems. Science 277(5325):522-525

  47. Nonga SWN, Robiglio V (2012) Tree diversity and carbon stock in the cocoa agro forest of Cameroon humid forest zone. ( Accessed 7 March 2013

  48. Norgrove L, Hauser S (2013) Carbon stocks in shaded Theobroma cacao farms and adjacent secondary forests of similar age in Cameroon. Trop Ecol 54(1):15–22

    Google Scholar 

  49. Norris K, Asase A, Collen B, Gockowski J, Mason J, Phalan B, Wade A (2010) Biodiversity in a forest-agricultural mosaic—the changing face of West African rainforests. Biol Conserv 143:2341–2350

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Obiri DB, Geoff AB, Morag AM, Anglaaere LCN, Cobbina J (2007) Financial analysis of shaded cocoa in Ghana. Agrofor Syst 71:139–149

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Ofori-Frimpong K, Asase A, Mason J, Danku L (2007) Shaded versus unshaded cocoa: implications on litter fall, decomposition, soil fertility and cocoa pod development. In: Proceedings 2nd Int. symposium on multistrata agroforestry systems with perennial crops: making ecosystem service count for farmers, consumers and the environment (17–21 September), CATIE, Turrialba. (

  52. Oke D, Olatiilu A (2011) Carbon storage in agroecosystems: a case study of the cocoa based agroforestry in ogbese forest reserve, Ekiti State, Nigeria. J Environ Prot 2:1069–1075

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Owusu-Sekyere E, Cobbina J, Wakatsuki T (2006) Nutrient cycling in primary, secondary forests and cocoa plantation in the Ashanti Region, Ghana. West Afr J Appl Ecol WAJAE –ISSN 9: 0855–4307

  54. Palm CA, van Noordwijk M, Woomer PL, Alegre JC, Are´valo L, Castilla CE, Cordeiro DG, Hairiah K, Kotto-Same J, Moukam A, Parton WJ, Ricse A, Rodrigues V, Sitompul SM (2005) Carbonlosses and sequestration after land use change in the humid tropics. In: Palm CA, Vosti SA, Sanchez PA, Ericksen PJ (eds) Slash and burn: the search for alternatives. Columbia University Press, New York, p 463

    Google Scholar 

  55. Pearce DW (2001) The economic value of forest ecosystems. Ecosyst Health 7(4):284–296

  56. Perfecto I, Vandermeer J (1996) Microclimatic changes and the indirect loss of ant diversity in a tropical agroecosystem. Oecologia 108:577–582

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Perfecto I, Vandermeer J, Mas AA, Soto Pinto L (2005) Biodiversity, yield, and shade coffee certification. Ecol Econ 54:435–446

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Pfaff AS (1999) What drives deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon? J Econ Manag 37:26–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Philpott SM, Armbrecht I (2006) Biodiversity in tropical agroforests and the ecological role of ants and ant diversity in predatory function. Ecol Entomol 31:369–377

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Rice RA, Greenberg R (2000) Cacao cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity. Ambio 29:167–173

    Google Scholar 

  61. Rolim SG, Ciarello AG (2004) Slow death of Atlantic forest trees in cocoa agroforestry in southeastern Brazil. Biodivers Conserv 13:2679–2694

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Rudel TK, Flesher K, Bates D, Baptista S, Holmgren P (2000) Tropical deforestation literature: geographical and historical patterns. Unasylva 203(51):11–18

    Google Scholar 

  63. Ruf F, Schroth G (2004) Chocolate forests and monocultures—an historical review of cocoa growing and its conflicting role in tropical deforestation and forest conservation. In: Schroth G, Fonseca GAB, Harvey CA, Gascon C, Vasconcelos HL, Izac AMN (eds) Agroforestry and biodiversity conservation in tropical landscapes. Island Press, Washington DC, pp 107–134

  64. Ruf F, Zadi H (1998) Cocoa: From deforestation to reforestation. Paper presented at the ‘first international workshop on sustainable cocoa growing’, Smithsonian Institute, Panama, 29 March–3 April 1998.

  65. Sanchez PA (1995) Science in agroforestry. Agrofor Syst 30:5–55

  66. Schroth G, da Fonseca GAB, Harvey CA, Gascon C, Vasconcelos HL, Izac AMN (2004) The role of agroforestry in biodiversity conservation in tropical landscapes. In: Schroth G, da Fonseca GAB, Harvey CA, Gascon C, Vasconcelos HL, Izac A-MN (eds) Agroforestry and biodiversity conservation in tropical landscapes. Island Press, Washington DC, pp 1–12

  67. Seyfried MS, Rao PSC (1991) Nutrient leaching loss from two contrasting cropping systems in the humid tropics. Trop Agric 68:9–18

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  68. Smail RA, Lewis DJ (2009) Forest-land conversion, ecosystem services, and economic issues for policy: a review. PNW-GTR-797. Portland, Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, p 40

  69. Somarriba E, Beer J (2013) Cocoa-based agroforestry production systems. Historical account: cocoa in Talamanca and Bocas Del Toro. (

  70. Sonwa DJ (2004) Biomass management and diversification within cocoa agroforest in the humid forest zone of southern Cameroon. PhD thesis. Faculty of Agriculture, University of Bonn, Bonn, Cuvillier Verlag Goettingen, p 112

  71. Sonwa DJ, Weise SF, Tchatat M, Nkongmeneck AB, Ndoye O, Gockowski J (2001) The role of cocoa agroforestry in rural and community forestry in southern Cameroon. Rural development forestry network. Netw Pap 25:1–10

    Google Scholar 

  72. Steffan-Dewenter I, Kessler M, Barkmann J, Bos MM, Buchori D, Erasmi S, Faust H, Gerold G, Glenk K, Gradstein SR, Guhardja E, Harteveld M, Hertel D, Höhn P, Kappas M, Köhler S, Leuschner C, Maertens M, Marggraf R, Migge-Kleian S, Mogea J, Pitopang R, Schaefer M, Stefan Schwarze, Sporn SG, Steingrebe A, Tjitrosoedirdjo SS, Tjitrosoemito S, Twele A, Weber R, Woltmann L, Zeller M, Tscharntke T (2007) Tradeoffs between income, biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning during tropical rainforest conversion and agroforestry intensification. Proc Natl Acad Sci (PNAS) 104:4973–4978

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  73. United Nations Development Programme (2010) Green Commodities Facility. Cocoa scoping paper 1.

  74. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2007) The Kyoto protocol mechanisms. ( Accessed 28 Aug 2014

  75. United Nations Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation Programme (2011) The UN-REDD Programme Strategy 2011–2015.

  76. van Noordwijk M (1989) Rooting depth in cropping systems in the humid tropics in relation to nutrient use efficiency. In: Heide JVD (ed) Nutrient management for food crop production in tropical farming systems. Haren, Institute of Soil Fertility, pp 129–144

    Google Scholar 

  77. Vebrova H, Lojka B, Husband PT, Zans CEM, Van Damme P, Rollo A, Kalousova M (2013) Tree diversity in cacao agroforests in San Alejandro. Agroforest Syst, Peruvian Amazon. doi:10.1007/s10457-013-9654-5

    Google Scholar 

  78. Zapfack L, Engwald S, Sonké B, Achoundong G, Madong BA (2002) The impact of land use conversion on plant biodiversity in the forest zone of Cameroon. Biodivers Conserv 11(11):2047–2061

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This review is based on work accomplished under a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Norman Borlaug Fellowship and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Project Number MO-NRSL0893. We would like to thank the International Agriculture Program Office and Department of Forestry at the University of Missouri for their support during the fellowship Program. Views expressed in this manuscript are the authors’ own.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francisco X. Aguilar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Obeng, E.A., Aguilar, F.X. Marginal effects on biodiversity, carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling of transitions from tropical forests to cacao farming systems. Agroforest Syst 89, 19–35 (2015).

Download citation


  • Cacao land use systems
  • Agroforestry
  • Marginal changes
  • Ecosystem services