As Colombia searches for a way forward after a half-century of war, the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) could have a significant role to play. Called the food of the gods, this squat tropical hardwood holds exceptional social and environmental promise in the intractable expanses of the country. For starters, cacao can grow at many of the same altitudes as coca, the proscribed plant from which cocaine is extracted. Cacao’s price per pound makes it an ideal substitute in the far reaches of Colombia where transportation costs make most other crops unviable. Unlike coca, which is harvested at the stem several times a year, cacao is a perennial tree that holds soil. Cacao is also a smallholder crop par excellence, with the most exquisite chocolate coming from meticulously managed polyculture systems under a tropical canopy. Today, Colombia has its eye on the premium markets that value such care and finesse: although ranked 10th among cacao-exporting nations by volume, 95% of the cacao it exports is classified as fine quality, and newly rediscovered varietals win international awards every year. Cacao pods grow on trees in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler. Untapped potential and emerging key resources But Colombia has yet to capitalize on most of cacao’s potential. Yields per hectare have hardly budged over the past few decades, to a large extent because cacao is a smallholder crop often grown in the hinterlands where education and extension services are hard to come by. Many cacao growers produce as little as 200…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer