Sustainable Cacao & Smallholder Uplift & Biodiversity Enhancement

Creating high-impact regenerative agriculture ventures.

Given the economic importance and challenges of deforestation and biodiversity loss in cacao, we seek a partner who wants to work with us to double yield and enhance biodiversity with no land expansion or deforestation.

We've already started to deconstruct the cacao problem space with the DSV Alpha Methodology and are focused on an audacious outcome to simultaneously enhance yield and biodiversity with no further land expansion or deforestation.

Technologies can rapidly develop improved cacao varieties, facilitate the transition to sustainable cropping systems, and enhance the yield from on-farm fermentation.

There is a strong talent pool of potential Founders with the right skillset to build impactful ventures in this space as part of our Tropical Agriculture & Bioeconomy Initiative.

Thank you!

See our OA Concept Deck

To obtain access to our work so far, in which we outline objectives and approach for this OA, just complete the form below.


Cacao is one of the most economically important crops grown in tropical regions, but its cultivation drives a cycle of environmental and financial deprivation. The pressure for short-term yield drives farmers to adopt monoculture systems with high input dependency. But this system is unsustainable, with soil degradation causing yields to drop within ten years of farming. The associated income loss pushes farmers to deforest more fertile land and restart the cycle. As a result, significant biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, and poor labour practices are associated with cacao cultivation, while yields have plateaued.

This system must change, with cacao demand expected to double from 2010-2050. Commitments made by both key industry players and governments have codified this need. At Deep Science Ventures, we see an opportunity to achieve a just transition to sustainable and profitable cacao with innovative solutions that can enhance smallholder productivity and profits, and enroll them as agents of biodiversity enhancement.


We apply a proprietary methodology to venture building called DSV Alpha. This process focuses on starting with the desired outcome and then working backward to identify the technical or economic constraints that must be overcome to deliver the optimal approach.

Our target is to double cacao yield with zero additional deforestation. This outcome pairs cacao’s competing priorities - growth in consumer demand and the need to halt environmental damage. Starting from this outcome, we built a knowledge graph for cacao cultivation, constructing an understanding of the state of the art technologies and constraints that must be overcome. From this, we conceived potential approaches to support the target outcome.


We built our ideas around three key intervention points: the biology that underpins cacao yield, sustainable cultivation practices, and post-harvest processing. Each presents significant opportunities to improve sustainability and yield due to their influence on significant challenges such as disease loss, soil quality, and pollination.

By challenging known constraints on cacao cultivation, we developed a candidate list of approaches that could enable our target outcome. This included ideas such as novel breeding technologies to rapidly develop high performance varieties and digital tools to guide the creation of locally-optimised agroforestry systems. These approaches were assessed collectively to establish our confidence in this opportunity area for venture-backability.


We are confident that both novel technologies and existing technologies can be leveraged in novel ways that form the basis of impactful ventures. Based on the approaches we are most excited about, we have built the profile of an ideal Founder in Residence who would work with us to build a transformative venture from the ground up. We are now seeking mission-aligned partners to collaborate with us and make this vision of sustainable, thriving cacao cultivation a reality.

Areas of venture creation:

Smart Agroforestry System Design

Problem to solve

Geospatial and on-farm data can be integrated to inform agroforestry planting and management strategies to enhance biodiversity and yields, and transition cacao farms toward sustainable cropping practices. However, enabling the design and implementation of agroforestry systems that are optimised for environmental conditions and resource use efficiency must be made as precise and easy as possible for farmers given the wide variety of variables present across cacao farms.

Reason to solve

Upside: Solving the agroforestry design challenge could extend sustainability and yield improvement to a wide variety of other tropical tree crops.

Neglect: Competitors in agroforestry design seem to be entirely focused on solving the challenge in temperate agriculture in US and Europe - there is a gap in the tropics for this solution.

Tractability: Necessary tools underlying GIS platforms already exist and simply need to be optimised to tropical AFS, soil, plant and microbiome variables.

Cacao Screening & Grafting

Problem to solve

Cacao trees may take up to five years to bear flowers and fruit, and it is difficult to predict which saplings will be high producing mature trees until flowers are produced. It may be possible enhance yields in the short and long term by developing new chemistries, screening approaches, and grafting techniques to accelerate the cacao life cycle and arrive at a larger amount of high productivity trees faster, to boost yield without any additional increase in land use, and ideally using existing trees.

Reason to solve

Upside:  Faster variety development increases flowers, yields, improves chocolate quality and diversity.  Better grafts, good bio-based chemistries and improved trees already rpoductive.

Neglect: Competitors are focused on tissue culture solutions to solve for the problem.

Tractability: We understand the mechanisms that control flowering in other crops, which could be easily adaptable to cacao. 

Fermentation Enhancement & Outgrower Integration

Problem to solve

Fermentation is a key step in the cacao supply chain but it is often executed imprecisely or skipped out by farmers, representing a missed opportunity in quality and profits. While it is not possible to deploy high tech fermentation on every farm, it might be possible to improve post-harvest processing techniques by creating new fermentation technologies that are easy to access by smallholder farmers via local/centralised facilities that they can access through outgrower models. There are further opportunities to provide access to these technologies in exchange for farmers adopting improved on-farm biodiversity approaches.

Reason to solve

Upside: Scalable, cost-effective fermentation tech for small-scale farmers can benefit a wider range of farmers & chocolate makers.

Neglect: Most cacao fermentation technologies are focused on producing lab-grown cacao-free chocolate products.

Tractability: Chocolate makers are investing in new cacao fermentation technology to boost quality and sustainability, and fermentation technology is highly advanced in other food and agriculture supply chains.

Our partners

EARTH University

EARTH University is a private, non-profit, international university based in Costa Rica and created with support from the Costa Rican government, U.S. Agency for International Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. EARTH’s mission is to prepare leaders with ethical values to contribute to sustainable development and construct a prosperous and just society.

EARTH University is excited to participate in this collaboration with so many leading research institutions. The Cacao Sustainability OA is truly at the forefront of sustainability and adapting Costa Rica’s strengths to a changing environment around the world.


Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center

CATIE is an academic centre for innovation and sustainable development in agriculture, management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It has one of the largest collections of cacao strains in the world, which will be available to Founders in Residence in this Opportunity Area.

This alliance represents an execellent example of how entrepreneurs, organizations, private companies and investors can coincide on a joint effort to generate a positive impact on society and on the environment. We, at CATIE, are honored to be a part of TABI.

CR BioMed

CR Biomed is Costa Rica’s biotechnology and life sciences cluster. Since 2016, it has brought together private companies, government, academia, investors, entrepreneurs, and individuals engaged in, or supplying, R&D activities, to coordinate and promote the development of a globally competitive Costa Rican and Latin biotechnology and life sciences industry.

The Tropical Agriculture & Bioeconomy Initiative aligns seamlessly with our mission to promote new science-based global businesses, which is key for a bright social, environmental, and economic future.


CINDE, The Costa Rica Investment Promotion Agency is a private, non-political, and non-profit organization. For 40 years, it has advised and guided nearly 400 high-tech companies to develop their operations and strategies in the country.

Deep Science Ventures is bringing a fresh perspective on empowering innovation in Costa Rica and countries like it across the tropics. Building companies with an emphasis on Bioeconomy and advanced technologies is a huge boost to the entrepreneurship ecosystem and we are excited to support these new ventures and be part of this journey towards creating value.

CRUSA Foundation

The CRUSA Foundation is a Costa Rican non-profit organisation. Since 1996 the Foundation has devoted its efforts towards improving life quality for the country’s inhabitants and achieving sustainable development.

The Tropical Agriculture & Bioeconomy Initative is designed to develop bew companies that can revitalise economies, mitigate climate change, and enhance welfare in Costa Rica and beyond.