Cocoa Cultivation

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Cocoa Cultivation



    If a cocoa tree is to grow well, it needs more than anything else a soil
        of good structure,
        permeable and deep.
    The cocoa tree has tap-roots.
    The tap-root descends straight into the soil.
    The branch roots go down very deep.
    But many small branch roots also grow near the surface.
    If the soil is of good structure and contains much humus, the roots penetrate well.
    You can improve the soil structure by spreading manure and working it into the soil.
    If the soil is deep, the roots can go down to a good depth.
    Never plant cocoa trees in soil with a lot of stones, or in soil where there is some hard layer.


    In Africa, cocoa is grown in forest regions.
    To make a plantation, you must clear the site.
    But the cocoa tree needs shade, especially when it is young.
    The traditional method is to cut down all the trees and to burn everything.
    But this is a bad method because:
        You destroy all the organic matter in the weeds, the leaves and the branches.
        You leave the soil bare to the sun or rain.
        The soil becomes less fertile.
        The cocoa trees are not protected from the sun when it is too strong.
    Sometimes growers put banana trees or taros into the cocoa plantation, to give shade for the young cocoa trees. If these are planted long enough before the cocoa trees, they give good protection.
    But if they are planted at the same time as the cocoa trees, they do not protect the young cocoa trees well enough and they take nourishment out of the soil.
    To give shade it Is better to keep a few of the forest trees.
    You should cut first all the tall weeds, the creepers and the small trees.
    Make heaps of what you have cut down and arrange the heaps in rows.
    It is better not to burn all the vegetation you cut.
    Leave it on the ground.
    It protects the soil against erosion and sun.
    It rots and makes humus.
    If you have to burn the vegetation you have cut, you must sow a cover crop.
    Next, go through the plantation a second time:
    Now cut down all the trees which might give some disease to the cocoa trees.
    And cut down also all trees that give too much shade.
    But leave those large trees which can give no disease to the cocoa trees, and which give a little shade.
    When the cocoa trees have grown taller, they need less shade.
    You should gradually give them less and less shade.
    You should prune the big trees and cut off those branches that cast too much shade.
    When the plantation is well cared for, you can cut down all the big trees.
    When the cocoa trees have grown, it is better to get rid of the unwanted shade trees by using tree-killing chemical products. This way causes less damage than cutting them down.
    In Cameroon, for example,
        Farmers always remove the following trees:
        Local name Botanical name
        Atui Piptadeniastrum africanum
        Tôm Erythrophloeum guineense
        Ebaé Pentaclethra macrophylla
        Eyen Distemonanthus benthamianus
        Asam Uapaca staudtii
        Abem Macrolobium or Berlinia
        Esabem Macrolobium limba
        Engôkôm Myrianthus arboreus
        Aseng Musanga cecropioides

        Leave in the plantation:
        Akom Terminalia superba
        Atol Ficus vogeliana
        Evouvous Albizzia ferruginea
        Esak Albizzia fastigiata
        Ekouk Alstonia boonei
        Eteng Pycnanthus kombo

    In Ivory Coast
        Farmers always remove the following trees:
        Dabema Piptadeniastrum africanum
        Samba Triplochiton scleroxylon
        Bâla Childovia sanguinea
        Aiya, Kotibé Nesogordonia papaverifera
        Cola Cola nitida
        Ehéman Corynanthe pachyceras
        Cakoua Cola spp.
        Boto, Kotokié Sterculia tragacantha
        Fromager Ceiba pentandra
        Akogaouan, Oba Bombax spp.
        Grand Wounian Myrianthus preussi
        Bléblendou Treculia africana
        Inékichébi Rauwolfia vomitoria
        Glagla Conopharyngia

        Leave in the plantation:
        Adashia Trema guineensis
        Iroko Chlorophora excelsa
        Figuiers Ficus
        Ouangrain Allophylus africanus
        Sipo, Tiama Entandro phragma
        Pri, Pousso oué Funtumia
        Abalo Combretodendron africanum
        Emien Alstonia boonei
        Minghi, Bahé Fagara
        Oualébé Ndéa Pycnanthus angolensis
        Fraké, Framiré Terminalia
        Akoua Antrocaryon micraster
        Parasolier Musanga cecropioides
        Loloti Lannea welwitschii
        Tchikué, Tchikuébi Bridelia


    With traditional methods, planting is most often done in a haphazard way.
    The cocoa trees are not planted in rows.
    There is not the same distance between them.
    When the trees are too far apart, they do not use all the soil; when they are too close, they grow badly.
    Instead, you should always plant in rows.
    First mark the rows for the cocoa trees, leaving about 2.5 to 3 metres between rows.
    Along each row, mark out with pegs the spots where the cocoa trees are to go.
    Leave about 2.5 to 3 metres between trees.
    In this way you can plant about 1 000 to 1 600 seedlings per hectare.
    Digging the holes
    Before planting cocoa trees, the grower must dig holes in order to stir the earth and loosen it.
    Dig the holes two months before planting the cocoa trees.
    When you are digging the hole, do not mix together the soil from above and the soil from below:
    Make two separate heaps.

Sometimes growers sow cocoa seeds straight away in the plantation.
This is a bad thing to do.
It is better to put into the plantation
either young cocoa seedlings from your own nursery beds,
or cocoa seedlings bought from a research centre.

    A few hours before lifting the seedlings from the nursery beds, water the soil.
    Then take the seedlings out of the nursery beds with a spade or a hoe.
    Be very careful not to break the roots.
    Next sort out the cocoa seedlings.
    Throw away diseased plants and plants that have a twisted tap-root.
    You can dip the roots of the seedlings in liquid mud, so that the cocoa plants take root again easily.
    When to plant cocoa trees
    Plant cocoa trees at the beginning of the rainy season.
    Choose a day when the soil is moist and when the sky is cloudy.
    Plant the young cocoa trees when they are about 6 months old.
    How to plant cocoa trees
    A few days before planting, fill in the holes you have dug.
    At the bottom of the hole, put the soil you have dug out from the top, and on top put the soil you have dug out from below.
    You may mix the soil with manure.
    When you are ready to plant, make a small hole.
    In this small hole place your young cocoa seedling.
    If you have sown your seeds in baskets or bags, make a hole big enough to hold the root ball with the cocoa seedling.
    Be very careful not to twist the tap-root.
    Do not cover the crown with earth.
    Pack the soil down well around the tap-root.
    For the first few days, protect the cocoa seedling from the sun.
    If there are palm trees in your village, use a palm frond.
    When the cocoa trees have been planted, the work is not finished.
    The grower still has a lot of work to do to look after his cocoa trees.
    A grower who does not look after his plantation properly cannot harvest big pods and will not earn much money.
    To look after your plantation properly you must:
        Replace seedlings that have not grown
        Remove weeds and keep the soil covered
        Prune the cocoa trees
        Apply fertilizer
        Protect the cocoa trees from insects and diseases.


    Sometimes certain cocoa seedlings do not grow well. They remain small or die.
    During the months following the day when you planted your seedlings, you must always look to see whether the cocoa trees are growing well.
    If you see diseased or dead cocoa trees, pull them out and burn them, and also those encircling them in case of swollen shoot disease (see paragraph 42). In their place, plant other young cocoa seedlings, from among those that you have kept in the nursery bed or in baskets.


    Many weeds grow among the cocoa tree rows.
    You must not let weeds take nourishment away from the cocoa trees.
    When the cocoa trees are young, you should weed 4 or 5 times every year.
    When the cocoa trees are bigger, they cast a lot of shade and so few weeds will grow.
    It will be enough to weed once a year.
    When you are cultivating be very careful not to damage the trunk and roots of the cocoa trees.
    Between the rows of cocoa trees, you should not leave the soil bare.
    You should cover the soil either with cut weeds or with palm fronds, if available.
    In this way the soil is protected against sun and erosion; it stays moist and cool.
    When the weeds rot, they give the soil organic matter.
    You can also sow a cover crop, for Instance legumes.
    This will give the soil good protection against sun and erosion.


    The cocoa tree is a tree that develops well.
    It has a single, straight trunk.
    A crown of 3 to 5 main branches forms about 1.5 metres above ground level.
    Sometimes, during the first year, several shoots form on the trunk.
    Cut off these shoots and leave only the strongest.
    Sometimes the crown forms too low down, at less than 1 metre above ground level.
    Choose a shoot which grows straight up and let it develop.
    A new crown will then form at a good height, and the first crown will stop growing.
    Young well-grown cocoa tree

    Young cocoa tree with two shoots Cocoa tree which forms its crown too low down

    Always cut out all dead branches, dry twigs and suckers.
    A sucker is a twig that grows upward out of the trunk.
    Cut off the suckers very close to the trunk.
    When a cocoa tree gets old, it no longer yields many pods.
    But you can make cocoa trees young again by letting one or two suckers grow low down on the trunk where they can develop their own roots.
    Then cut down the old trunk, and you will again have a cocoa tree that yields many pods.

Fertilizers cost a lot of money.
So the grower should use fertilizers only when this will make him earn more money.

    When you have tended your cocoa trees, when you have hoed the weeds, then you should apply fertilizer.
    Spread fertilizer around each cocoa tree, but be careful not to put any on the trunk, the branches or the leaves of the cocoa tree: otherwise the fertilizer will burn the tree.
    Spread the fertilizer in a ring around the trunk at a distance of about 1 metre from it, where most of its small roots are.
    Apply fertilizer twice a year: in April and September.
    It Is useless to apply fertilizers in a plantation that is not well cared for.
    A grower who does not prune his cocoa trees and who does not hoe the weeds should not apply any fertilizer.
    If the plantation is not cared for properly, fertilizers do nothing except feed the trunks of the cocoa trees, the suckers and the weeds.
    The grower loses his money.
    Different soils have different fertilizer needs.
    Ask the extension service how much fertilizer to use.
    For example, in Ivory Coast:
        on the more sandy soils, along the coast, use compound fertilizer, which contains nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash: fertilizer formula 13-10-15;
        on the more granitic soils of the interior, use another compound fertilizer: formula 12-15-18.
    The quantities for each tree are as follows:
        during the first two years:
        in April: 125 grammes;
        in September: 125 grammes.
        during the third year and from then on:
        in April: 250 grammes;
        in September: 250 grammes.

The most dangerous insects are the following:

    These insects prick the twigs and pods.
    At the place where they make a hole, the tree dries out and the sap no longer circulates.
    Young trees attacked by capsids often die.
    To control capsids, use Lindane or Aldrin.
    The larvae of these insects bore holes in the trunk or branches.
    You can control borers with DDT or Dieldrin.
    Capsid Borer

The most dangerous diseases that attack cocoa trees are the following:

    Black pod disease
    This is caused by a fungu    s which chiefly attacks the pods.
    If attacked, the pods rot and die.
    Control this disease by picking off diseased pods and burning them.
    You can prevent the disease from spreading by spraying the sound pods with copper preparations.
    Swollen shoot disease
    This is a very serious disease, which has caused much damage in Ghana.
    You will see that the leaves are mottled. Sometimes some twigs become very thick and the tree soon dies.
    Mealy bugs carried about by ants can transmit the disease from one tree to another.
    Control this disease by cutting down diseased trees and leaving them to wither.
    Remember that, when a diseased tree has been discovered and cut down, all the trees circling it must be cut down also to avoid the spread of infection.
    The tree makes its first flowers after two years. But in order not to tire the tree, you should cut off the first flowers.
    From these you will therefore get no fruit.
    There are two harvests each year: a small harvest at the beginning of the rainy season, a big harvest at the end of the rainy season.
    Do not pick all the pods at the same time.
    Pick only pods that are ripe, whether yellow or red.
    Leave on the tree any pods that are not ripe, that are still a little green.
    Go through the plantation every fortnight to pick the ripe pods.
    Never pick the pods by pulling them off: if you do, you will spoil your tree.
    You should cut the stem of the pod with a machete