Sustainable Strategies for Cacao Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management Practices from Cacao Source

By Laurence Tremblay

With Cacao Source, we continuously strive to grow our knowledge of the cacao industry and share it with our local and international community. As we work closely with a variety of cacao farmers across Guatemala, we’ve noticed various educational needs, one of which is clear: cacao pest management.

We collaborate with indigenous farmers in Guatemala who own small-scale organic agroforestry cacao plantations. These farmers often face significant challenges in pest management. Guatemala is currently one of the countries most affected by climate change, directly impacting its rural areas. Our partner farms prioritize organic farming and do not use chemical pesticides to address pest challenges. However, inadequate pest management can lead to substantial yield losses that small-scale indigenous farmers struggle to overcome.

At Cacao Source, we believe in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that focuses on prevention, observation, and intervention. Let us tell you more about it!

Integrated Pest Management model:

 1. Prevention

Prevention is key in maintaining a healthy organic agroforestry system.

Comparable to alternative health medicine, maintaining a strong and healthy lifestyle is crucial for avoiding reliance on Western medicine. Similarly, a robust and healthy ecosystem is vital to minimize the use of chemicals.

For cacao farms, prevention involves: 

a. Ensuring a healthy soil by using compost and mulch.

b. Providing semi-shaded spaces for the trees, allowing sufficient but not excessive sunlight exposure (around 75% for mature cacao trees).

c. Creating space between branches to facilitate air circulation. Maintaining a single stem with 3 to 4 main branches, while pruning other branches. 

d. Implementing height control measures to maintain a suitable height of 10 to 12 ft. 

e. Lastly, practicing effective weed management to optimize nutrient access for the cacao tree. 

These fundamental practices significantly impact the health of the cacao agroforestry system, preventing diseases and pests from affecting yields.

2. Observation

Regularly visiting the cacao plantation and closely observing for signs of pests or diseases is crucial. Identifying the specific pest or disease early on allows for timely management measures.

Familiarity with the various outbreaks cacao farms are vulnerable to is essential for accurate identification.

Common pests and diseases include:

  • Black pod disease: This disease is prevalent in the fields of our partner farms and can lead to significant losses. It is easily identifiable by the blackening of pods and the presence of white traces on the pod's surface. Upon opening the pod, the fruit will appear brownish, and the seeds will be easily separated. Managing black pod disease involves removing infected pods from the cacao field, pruning for improved air circulation and sunlight access, and practicing good field sanitation.
  • Witches’ broom disease: This disease can sometimes be mistaken for black pod disease but has distinct attributes such as dark brown plagues without white traces. When the pod is opened, the inside is hard, and the seeds are difficult to separate. The disease affects flowers, pods, and trees, resulting in distorted cacao pods, dark brown plagues, or brown spots. Management measures include removing and burning all diseased broom, flower cushions, and pods before the rainy season, creating space between and within trees, practicing weed management, controlling shade through semi-shaded areas, and maintaining effective drainage to manage moisture in the ecosystem.
  • Mirids: Cocoa mirids cause significant yield losses by puncturing stems, branches, and pods, leading to damaging lesions. They prefer cacao trees with access to sunlight for food and build habitats in shaded areas. Some farms have used black ants as a biological control method. Management strategies include shade and canopy management, intervention of black ants, and regular observation of young trees for marks on the stems.
  • Cocoa pod borer: The CPB moth measures 7mm in length and is brown in color with a white strip on the forewings. It inflicts damage on both young and mature pods, resulting in unevenness and premature ripening. The female moth lays her eggs on the surface of the cacao pods. To manage this pest, it is important to implement effective sanitation practices, such as harvesting ripe pods and burying all damaged and infected ones. Regular pruning and maintaining the height of cacao trees under 4 meters are also crucial measures. In case of infection, cacao pods measuring 8 to 10 cm in length can be sleeved, and the sleeve can be left on until maturity. Another effective method of biological control is the intervention of black ants.

3. Intervention

Once the presence of a pest or disease is observed, it is essential to take active measures to minimize yield losses while minimizing the environmental impact. At Cacao Source, we promote cultural, mechanical, and biological control methods as interventions. We strongly discourage the use of chemical control for pest management and strive to find efficient solutions that remove pests without harming the environment.


While cacao trees are vulnerable to various diseases and pests, the overall prevention methods apply to all of them. Implementing good sanitation practices in the cacao field and following preventive care for the agroforestry system can significantly increase yields. We work diligently to promote healthy soil that optimally nourishes cacao trees, enabling them to combat threats to their yields. 

Cacao pest management is crucial knowledge and practice for our farmers. Each year, our five origins experience a percentage of yield loss due to diseases and pests. Understanding pest management helps us appreciate the challenges that farmers face in producing the cacao we greatly enjoy. It also fosters compassion when an origin's stock is limited due to a decrease in production for a particular year.

To support farmers, we offer high-value compensation for their quality cacao. Additionally, we provide eco-tours to create an additional income stream for their farms, and we have developed the Give Back to Farmer Program. 

You can learn more about the five farms we collaborate with at:



Differentiating diseases: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVMjBiq0rv4

Diseases and pests of cacao: https://www.icco.org/pests-diseases/#toggle-id-40

Witch broom’s disease: https://agriculture.gov.tt/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Witches-Broom-Disease-of-Cocoa-pdf.pdf

Integrated pest management: https://standardsfacility.org/sites/default/files/PG_381_TOMF_Manual_Malaysia%26Indonesia.pdf

El mosquito polinizador del Cacao
Un vistazo a los bosques para entender a los pequeños seres que hacen posible el Cacao