Historically, cacao has been, and still is, a significant source of tropical deforestation. At the same time, it is a crop on which many conservationists and natural resource managers base their hopes for an agriculture that not only provides a livelihood for tropical farmers, but also helps to conserve biodiversity in the tropical landscape. Growing cacao under a canopy enhances the soil, protects it from erosion, provides non-cacao products to the farmer and a refuge for an array of animal groups like birds, insects, small mammals, and reptiles. The leaf litter provided by a shade canopy is particularly important for the life cycle of the insects that pollinate the cacao blossoms.
Farmers that choose to grow cacao using sustainable methods rely on organic or premium markets for the higher prices they must charge for making a commitment to increasing biodiversity and embracing a more environmentally friendly agriculture.