Cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) is an important economic plant in Baracoa, province of Guantánamo, Cuba, where more than 70% of the Cuban cacao is produced. However, the quality and quantity of production are low and threatened by several constraints all along the production process. Diseases are one of the main constraints in the field and are not controlled. The genetic potential of the Cuban cacao has only been investigated recently. The natural environment may suffer from inadequate agricultural practices and climate change (soil erosion, shortening of the rainy season). The knowledge of productive and environmental-friendly practices of the extensionists and farmers is limited. The transformation process is poor, suffering from strong weaknesses of the transformation chain transport, fermentation, drying, toasting. Consequently, income for the small farmers and families is limited. Teaching and research institutions suffer from a limited training in these activities. Most universities apart from Havana lack from research and scientific training. However, the cacao production activity benefits from several strengths. As a perennial multispecific system, cacao plantations are optimal for the sustainable management of mountainous tropical areas, providing protection against soil erosion and losses in carbon and agro-biodiversity. The Cuban expertise in agro-ecology has been recognized for years. The world cacao demand is expected to grow by 25% in the next ten years and the Cuban Government is investing in cacao transformation. Finally, the educational level in Cuba is high and offers a good opportunity for training high-level researchers. The aim of the project is to improve the production system of cacao through an agroecologial, multidisciplinary approach all along the production chain in pilot farms.
In this context, it is necessary to analyze and improve several elements of the cacao agroecosystem and of the cacao transformation. A detailed environmental, sociological and economical balance of the production chain will be established. An optimal managing strategy of the plantations will be designed, by testing and applying agro-ecological methods, and focusing on the control of the black pod disease - the main constraint of the production. Cuban Cacao trees will be investigated in order to identify and select superior trees with high resistance to the black pod disease and with high potential to elaborate a high quality chocolate. Biological control will be applied to replace the use of pesticides and to increase the development of the cacao plants. The antagonistc effect against pathogens and the growthpromoting effect of microorganisms from the soil - Rhyzobacteria and Mycorrhizae - and endophytes developing within the leaves and pods of the cacao trees will be studied. The rise in both quantity and quality of the cacao produced and the reduction in consumption of pesticides will improve the incomes to the farmers. The agroecological approach will enhance the resilience of the agroecosystem. The fermentation process will be improved on-farm. The effect of the environment and of the cacao genotypes on the fermentation process will be studied in order to improve the process quality. The capacity of the teaching and research institutions of the region will be reinforced by the training of PhDs and post-docs and by reinforcing their collaboration with the University of Havana. Trainings will improve the capacity of the extensionists and farmers.