Cocoa cultivation

Introducing three methods of cocoa cultivation

When cultivating cocoa, one differentiates between three different methods. These differ significantly in their effects on the environment and the quality of the harvest. 

Single-crop farming

 With this method of cultivation, the cocoa plants are cultivated on large plantations without any protection from the sun. However, since the cocoa tree needs a high degree of rainfall and shade in order to develop optimally, a strong irrigation is necessary. The lack of shade is replaced by nets blocking the fauna from accessing the affected areas. In addition, the plants are treated intensively with pesticides to reduce the risk of an outbreak of diseases or of the infestation by pests.

In the case of an infection, the diseases would spread rapidly through the re-cultivation of the cocoa and the close cohesion of the trees. This could lead to losses of 10% - 50%. In order to achieve maximum harvest yields, the cocoa trees are manually pollinated, not by small mosquitoes as intended by nature. The pollutant performance is the substantially restrictive effect against other factors such as light incidence, nitrogen and water supply. Even an increase from 10% - 40% leads to a doubling of the harvest entries. At the same time, this type of pollination also avoids crossbreeding with other subspecies, meaning that the plants have the same genetic material, making them more vulnerable to environmental influences and diseases. Due to the cultivation of only cocoa trees, the affected soil is loaded single-sided very heavily, which leads to its rapid leaching and requires the use of mineral fertilizer.

This method of cultivation has a particularly wide impact on the environment, on the people and the animals of the region. As a result of this monoculture of cocoa plants and the enormous use of pesticides, the biodiversity in these areas is greatly reduced. The chemicals get into the ground and, therefore, into the groundwater. Furthermore, they accelerate the resistance formation with insects, fungal diseases and harmful organisms.

Low-light plants

In contrast to pure culture, the cocoa trees are cultivated with so-called cocoa mothers. These “mothers” are usually crops such as banana trees, coconut palms, rubber, avocado or mango, also native forest trees. They serve as providers of shade, as well as windbreaks, and thus reduce the stress on cocoa plants, making them less vulnerable to diseases or pests. The growth of the cacao, which otherwise can reach a height of up to 15 meters (~49 feet), is limited to about six meters (~20 feet). The reduced height also facilitates the harvest. In addition, shade plants also yield crops to the farmers and partly improve the quality of soil, such as its nitrogen supply. Nevertheless, this cannot yet be described as sustainable land use, since the latter is still one-sided due to the large number of cocoa trees. This method of cultivation only yields low to medium harvest, but can be carried out without the use of artificial pesticides, thus enabling the organic cocoa cultivation, which increases the price of the farmers at the sale.

Agroforestry System

The agroforestry system is the most environmentally friendly method since it contributes to the sustainable use of the rainforests ecosystem. It also preserves its biodiversity of plants, birds and insects. Agroforestry refers to production systems that combine agriculture with forestry. In doing so, perennial trees are integrated on the surface with e.g. annual crops. Cocoa is raised with several shade trees, as well as soil and crop plants, which provide protection against soil erosion, increase soil fertility and provide an additional source of income and food for the cocoa farmers.

Another procedure is to mix in cocoa plants among the natural forests, which have been cleaned of harmful trees. Those harmful trees can reduce crop yield since the trees are in competition for water, light and sun. They can also be hosts or intermediate hosts of fungal diseases, harmful insects or other pests. At this, the rainforest, in being the natural environment of cocoa plants, is simulated in its biodiversity. Due to ecological criteria, pesticide and fertilizer use is not possible with this type of cultivation. It is also not necessary though, since the greater distances between trees reduce the risk of spreading and disruption of the disease.  

By further measures, diseases and pests can also be controlled and contained. The regular monitoring of stocks, as well as hygiene measures, play important roles.

Trees are kept low, and possibly infected plant parts are observed and cut off.

Another method to keep the trees healthy is to use insects or fungi which infect or eat harmful insects, and, therefore, prevent epidemics.

The variety and reproduction of resistant or tolerant cocoa varieties can also prevent severe disease or rapid spread. An alternative to chemical pesticides is plant protection by means of biological or natural substances. A type of immunization against pests, faecal enemies and fungal diseases is caused, as a result of which the infected plants develop bitter, unpleasant or even some poisonous substances to a certain extent. This protective reflex can be triggered as planned by certain natural substances for casting or spraying, thus combating the pests from the plant. Although this method of cultivating is very expensive and produces a comparatively low cocoa yield, it also offers some advantages for the cocoa nut. Thus the cultivated cocoa receives a greater variety of flavors since it absorbs them from the adjacent trees, for example a light citrus note from neighboring lemons or orange trees. Furthermore, a higher price can be achieved through organic certification and it enables the production of high quality cocoa.

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