The champion who evaluates and maps soils to grow cacao

Since June, 2018, Mayesse Da Silva, Soil Scientist at CIAT, has been working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA-FAS on the characterization and detailed mapping of cacao soils in Colombia under the “Cacao for Peace (CfP)” program. CfP seeks to improve the rural well-being of farmers through agricultural development processes that are inclusive, sustainable and have positive impacts on cacao producers’ household income.

Por Sylvia Pineda | Ago 20, 2019



The project is financed by USAID and USDA, and jointly implemented by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Penn-State University and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). In this project, Da Silva and a team of experts from the Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes (ASL) and Biotechnology (AgBIO) areas at CIAT are characterizing and mapping key physical and chemical properties of soil (including cadmium levels) for cacao. To that end, they are developing zoning maps for site-specific management, to improve productivity and characterizing the genetic diversity of the crop, which will help elucidate the genetic wealth found in 30 cacao farms in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Cacao is present in a large portion of the Colombian territory; it has existed for millennia and has a domestic demand deeply rooted in the historical tradition of drinking chocolate. For this reason, the team has focused on developing and socializing tools for Colombian decision makers and producers for the sustainable management of soils and their spatial variability.



Ever since I came to the Center, we have achieved many accomplishments as a team; focusing on soils and tools, such as digital mapping, is key for an appropriate planning of its management and thus identifying which soils are suitable to sustainably produce cacao in Colombia.

Mayesse Da Silva

Científica de suelos del CIAT

This champion also took part coordinating the CacaoCdFree event held by CIAT in collaboration with CIRAD, which gathered 60 people interested in the subject of cadmium in cacao. Donors, partners, and the private sector discussed on the state-of-the-art technology to address this issue in the three most affected countries in Latin America: Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.  

Mayesse Da Silva and the experts from the Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes (ASL) and Biotechnology (AgBIO) teams will continue to lead the development of solutions to mitigate cadmium and they will standardize protocols and methodologies useful in Colombia, as well as in Ecuador and Peru.