Back to the future: Brazilian federal bill re-discovers sustainable cabruca cocoa bean production

Brazilian government introduces bill following fears that illegal logging poses threat to cabruca system of planting cocoa trees under the canopy of native trees.

A regional decree and national bill seek to support and protect Brazil's sustainable cabruca cocoa production system. 

The cabruca system of planting cocoa trees under the canopy of the native forest has been in use for more than two centuries in the southern regions of Bahia, Brazil’s largest cocoa-producing state that accounts for around 60% of the country's production. Cabruca marries commercial cocoa bean production and conservation of the Atlantic rainforest. 

However, illegal logging has been pinpointed as a potential threat to the system, prompting Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies to approve the final version of federal bill nº 4995/2009 on cocoa cultivation in the cabruca system this month. The proposal will be forwarded to the Brazilian Senate for final approval, after a period for appeals expires in the Chamber of Deputies.

The decision to bring order to Brazil’s predominantly sustainable cocoa bean production could benefit chocolate manufacturers searching for existing sources of sustainable cocoa, the government hoped. 

Federal economic incentives

The bill grants the federal government the authority to identify and to promote cabruca regions with economic incentives. The new bill defines a cabruca cultivation system as a cocoa cultivation system that exists under the protection of at least 40 native Atlantic Forest trees that grow intermittently and are surrounded by native vegetation.

In addition to the environmental benefits for the Atlantic Rainforest, authorities hope that the new rules will also help to strengthen cocoa bean production in the country. Brazil will harvest 273,031 tonnes of cocoa in 2014, up by 4.32% from last year, according to the latest monthly report issued by Brazil’s National Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The country had 778,240 hectares of cocoa, up by 3.15% from 2013. 

Bahia shelters cabruca cocoa

In a separate development, Bahia last month approved its own cabruca decree that aimed to bring order and organize cabruca cocoa cultivation in the state. The decree, officially known as Forestry Decree nº 15.180/2014, is known also as the 'cabruca decree' because of its importance for sustainable cocoa cultivation.

The Bahia decree sets up rules for identifying cabruca cultivation as a system with a minimum of 20 Atlantic Forest trees per hectare, although those systems that have less than 40 Atlantic Forest trees per hectare will not be eligible for financial incentives.

Cocoa growers in Bahia are forecast to produce 164,624 tonnes of cocoa beans this year, up by 4.12% from 2013. The total planted area in Bahia amounts to 573,101 hectares this year, up by 4.07% from the previous year.

Cristiano Santana, executive secretary for Brazil’s Cabruca Institute, told Brazilian press that the new Bahia decree would lead to a considerable increase in cocoa production and provide more flexibility in managing cabruca production. Before the decree can be implemented, new by-laws need to be approved.

Although precise data on the area of cocoa production in the cabruca system is scare, two years ago Durval Libânio, president of Brazil’s Cabruca Institute, said cabruca accounts for 368,000 hectares in Brazil, including 340,000 hectares in Bahia alone.

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