How is Cacao Grown?

Cacao is one of the most popular plants in the world, largely because cacao pods are made into chocolate. If you’re a chocoholic, you may dream about growing your very own cacao plant in the backyard. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to grow cacao in many regions since the cacao plant requires very specific growing conditions.

Where Does Cacao Grow?

Cacao trees thrive in areas around the equator and their growing region can extend roughly 20°N and 20°S. This strip of land is known as the Chocolate Belt or the Cacao Belt.

The largest producer of cacao is Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coat), which produces approximately one third of the world’s annual harvest. Other major suppliers include Indonesia, Mexico, and Ghana.

Almost all regions that grow cacao have fewer labor laws and enforcement. Unfortunately this leads to many unaddressed abuses such as child labor.

Climate Requirements

The cacao plant’s very specific climatic requirements limit its habitat to the evergreen rainforest along the Chocolate Belt. It does best in high temperatures ranging from 30-32°C (86-89°F), with the lowest temperature not reaching below 18°C (64°F).

Rainfall is another important factor when it comes to being able to grow cacao. 1250-2500mm (49-98 in) of annual rainfall is necessary, with dry seasons of no more than three months.

Combined with climate change, cacao’s precise growing requirements put it at severe risk. For example, hotter temperatures and longer periods of drought are rapidly transforming West Africa’s Chocolate Belt. Dry savanna is replacing wet forests, making the region no longer suitable for cacao cultivation.

Soil Requirements

The types of soil that cacao plants grow in can vary widely. Along the Chocolate Belt, a plant needs a soil depth of at least 1.5 m (5 ft.) to establish a sturdy root system.

Cacao is extremely sensitive to water levels, so it’s important that the soil is both free draining and good at holding moisture. Soil pH levels can also vary tremendously between 4.5-7.5.

As you can see, cacao plants require a very particular set of conditions in order to encourage optimum growth. As deforestation and climate change continue to wreak havoc on the Chocolate Belt, chocolate and other cacao products will be in danger.