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Cadmium (Cd) distribution and soil-plant relationship in cacao farms in Costa Rica

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The current cadmium (Cd) regulations in chocolate threaten the cacao supply chain in several Latin American countries. The factors contributing to Cd accumulation in cacao beans have been poorly studied in Central America. The objective of this research was to identify the location of Cd hotspots as well as soil properties and management practices influencing the Cd concentration in cacao beans. A survey was carried out and soil, leaf, and beans were sampled from 150 farms in the three principal cacao-producing regions in Costa Rica. Total soil Cd concentration ranged from <0.1 to 1.05 (average 0.22 mg kg−1) which is typical of uncontaminated soils. Bean Cd concentration ranged from 0.12 to 3.23 (average 0.56 mg kg−1) and 22% of the samples exceeded the selected threshold of 0.80 mg kg−1, located mostly in the Huetar Caribe and Huetar Norte regions. Variability in bean Cd concentration was better explained by total soil Cd and soil organic carbon (SOC) (R2 = 0.62, p < 0.05). In addition, bean Cd concentration was affected by leaf nutrient content and management practices. Leaf Zn and P were positively correlated with bean Cd while K and Mn were negatively correlated (p < 0.05). Farm altitude and orchard age were also negatively correlated with bean Cd. Overall, this study shows that bean Cd contamination does not reach the extent observed in other Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, or Honduras. Nevertheless, research is needed in hotspot areas to assess the feasibility of potential mitigation strategies, particularly the use of mineral or organic soil amendments, which may allow better for planning in existing plantations or the expansion into new cacao-growing areas in the country.

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The data that support the findings of this study are not openly available but are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request by email.


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We are grateful to all participating cacao farmers, technicians of INTA and extension agents Costa Rica’s Ministery of Agriculture and Livestock, for their collaboration with field data collection. We would also like to highlight Dr. Rachel Atkinson of Alliance Bioversity-CIAT, Perú, for her collaboration to proofread the final version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by FONTAGRO through the project “multi-agency cocoa platform for Latin America and the Caribbean Cocoa 2030-2050” with grant ATN/RF-17235-RG. The opinions expressed in this publication are exclusively those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of FONTAGRO, its Board of Directors, or the countries it represents.

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Eduardo Chavez and Laura Ramírez contributed to the design and research implementation. Kevin Carrillo managed sample collection. Mariela Martínez was in charge of sample preparation and laboratory analysis. Kevin Carrillo and David Argüello performed the statistical analysis and interpretation of the results, also prepared tables and figures. Kevin Carrillo and Eduardo Chavez wrote the first versions of this manuscript. All authors participated in contributing to text and the content of the manuscript, including revisions and edits. All authors approve of the content of the manuscript and agree to be held accountable for the work.

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Correspondence to Kevin Carrillo.

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Carrillo, K., Martínez, M., Ramírez, L. et al. Cadmium (Cd) distribution and soil-plant relationship in cacao farms in Costa Rica. Environ Monit Assess 195, 1209 (2023).

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