Sailing Back Nutrients: Dutch Struvite as a Sustainable Fertilizer for Dominican Organic Cacao Farms

Project Description

Phosphorus is a chemical element that is essential for life: it serves as a critical nutrient for plants – including cacao – which remove it from the soil in order to develop their roots and grow.

Cacao is mainly an export commodity, meaning that the soil nutrients of which the cocoa bean is composed (and which include phosphorus) are partly exported as well. The result is that many cacao farms have increasingly depleted soils; a problem faced by many cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. Typically farmers try to address this by applying external phosphate fertilizers on their farms, but these are costly and perhaps more importantly: highly unsustainable.

This highlights a critical yet little-known problem: the world is running out of phosphorus for agricultural fertilizer. Mined in a handful of sites worldwide, and with its annual demand rising nearly twice as fast as the growth of the human population, it is estimated that we have perhaps 30 to 40 years’ worth of high quality phosphorus left. In short, we are going to have to find alternate sources of phosphorus for fertilizer.

One institution that has taken a proactive role in doing this are the Dutch Water Authorities: in their efforts to make the transition towards an increasingly circular economy they have started adopting technologies that enable them to extract renewable energy and raw materials from wastewater. One of these raw materials is phosphate, which can be extracted in the form of a sustainable fertilizer called “struvite”.

The Dutch chocolate company “Chocolatemakers” (who buy some of their organic cacao from the DR) initiated this project, asking me to coordinate a study that aims to measure the impact of applying sustainably produced struvite on the growth of cacao plants on various Dominican organic cacao farms. The study is done in collaboration with CONACADO, the largest cooperative of Dominican organic cacao farmers, and is funded by the Dutch platform for Social Enterprise (MVO Nederland) and Progreso.

As for the project’s name (“sailing back nutrients): the struvite has been transported to the DR by the “Tres Hombres”, a sailing boat that’s part of a zero emission cargo project of the Dutch company Fairtransport.

Project Summary

Partners Chocolatemakers (NL), CONACADO (DR)Dutch Water Authorities (Energie- & Grondstoffenfabriek, NL), Dutch Platform for Social Enterprise (MVO NL), Fairtransport (Tres Hombres, NL),  Progreso (NL)
Date Started March 2017
Status Ongoing
Keywords Sustainable Fertilizer, Struvite, Circular Economy, Organic Cacao
Resources Crystal Green (Struvite) Info Document


Featured Video

This video provides some background on the production of “Crystal Green“, the struvite product we are currently testing on cacao farms in the DR, and which is sustainably produced from waste water treated in Dutch waste water plants. For more info about the company that develops the technology to harvest the nutrients from the waste water see:


Struvite Project Gallery

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Where We’re At

The struvite is currently being tested out on three farms in Sabana Grande de Boya and Yamasa, both in the center of the Dominican Republic. Farm #1 is a new cacao plantation where we will measure the impact of the fertilizer on new cacao plants. On the other two we will measure the impact on plants ranging from 1-5 years old.

Finca's 1 & 2

Finca 3 (mature plantation)

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