Cacao is an important crop around the world.
In the Philippines however, local cacao production is not enough to meet local demand. As a result, local prices, as in the world market, are continually on the rise.
Locally, very few have ventured into large-scale cacao production, leaving local manufacturers of chocolate almost entirely reliant on imported cacao beans. If cacao can be grown more extensively, the country will save millions of dollars in foreign exchange.
Research shows that large-scale cacao production through intercropping with coconut is feasible. Farmers used to shy away from this practice because of the belief that the pod rot disease of cacao is caused by the same fungus that causes bud rot in coconut. Experience and laboratory experiments have disproved such beliefs.
Cacao beans have many uses. From its raw form, the beans are processed into cacao, either sweetened or unsweetened. They are also processed into liquor, butter, cake powder, paste, chocolate bars, candies, and confectioneries. Cacao serves as flavoring for pastries and ice cream and as raw material in the preparation of cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
Two major varieties of cacao – Criollo and Forastero – are grown locally. Another minor variety is called Trinitario.
Criollo. There are three recognized varieties of Criollo: the Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Trinidad types. Criollo excels in aroma and flavor and is considered the best the world over in terms of flavor.
Forastero. Despite being the most common, it is more resistant to insect pests and diseases. Oftentimes, it is even more productive.
Trinitario. This is a hybrid of both mentioned varieties. It is known for its hardiness and quality fruits.
Cacao is a tropical crop and thrives best in places 600 meters above the sea level. Rain should be evenly distributed year round because drought is detrimental to cacao. A warm humid climate like that o tropical forest is necessary. The right humidity, however, can also be provided by artificial shades. In the Philippines, the ideal cacao areas are Northeastern Luzon and Central Mindanao.
Cacao seedlings are propagated in nursery beds. Prepare seeds for planting by removing the pulp coating the seeds. This can be done by rolling them in dry earth or ash, then washing with water. After cleaning, plant seeds immediately in seedbeds made of garden soil and compost in equal proportions.
Soe seeds horizontally with the receme downward to ensure proper growth of radical. The receme is the point where the seed is attached to the pod.
Water and weed seedbed regularly and provide shade.
Divide land area into squares measuring 4 by 5 meters. Use a string or a thin rope to align the rows. Drive pegs where dividing lines meet to mark the place where holes will be made.
Remove pegs and in their places dig holes with a depth and diameter of 30 by 50 cm. The holes should be larger than the ball of earth around seedling roots.
Clean the land area of unnecessary vegetation and plant ipil-ipil trees to provide shade six months before transplanting. Plant ipil-ipil trees one meter away from where the cacao will be planted.
Cacao seedlings can be transplanted 3-8 months after sowing in seedbeds. Before transplanting, fill half of the holes with top soil mixed 14-14-14 fertilizer at the rate of 250 g per hole. Plant the seedlings then cover with soil. Seedlings should be transplanted when new flushes of leaves have turned green.
Cultivate soil around each plant to promote early and healthy growth. Covering the soil around each plant with mulch such as rice hull, straw, sawdust, and dry weeds conserves soil moisture and increases fertility.
Proper fertilizer use and care ensures optimum growth and higher yield per tree.
Fertilizer use. Apply all recommended fertilizers for growing trees ion 5 to 6 holes and 5 centimeters deep around the base. Dig holes midway to about 2/3 of tree canopy.
One pound limestone per tree per year is applied if soil pH is below 5.5. Higher dosage is used for poorer soil type.
Pruning. Prune to allow sunlight and air to penetrate the crown of the growing trees. Pruning prevents the outbreak of diseases and pests infections. Removed diseased branches and trim for uniform branching and more fruiting.
Disease control. Common diseases of cacao are black pod and canker. They are caused by fungus transmitted by rains, wind, and insects.
Black pods appear as brownish discoloration of fruit surface. A lesion usually appears at the tip or end of the stem, rapidly spreading until the while pod is infected.
Canker starts when moist spots appear at the back of the stem or on the main branches. The affected areas darken and a reddish-brown liquid comes out from cracks in the bark. Affected trees have yellow or brown leaves and can easily be seen amidst the green foliage.
To control both diseases, remove diseased pods regularly. Spray fungicides and maintain lower humidity in the plantation by avoiding dense planting and observing proper drainage and pruning.
Cacao trees bear fruit 4-5 years after transplanting. Flowers become pods in 4-5 months. Pods are mature when they have changed color. Red-color varieties change to yellowish-orange while the white-color varieties turn green and yellow. If you bear a hallow sound while tapping, the beans have been already separated from the pods and are, therefore, ripe.
Cacao pods are properly harvested by cutting them from the tree. The traditional practice of pulling the pods damages the tree. Do not injure or damage the flower cushions because succeeding flowers grow them. This flower cushion appears as a mass of bark tissues.
Open the harvested pods by slicing or breaking them. Scoop out the beans from each other. Cut beans and diseased pods should be rejected. Harvesting can be done in 3-4 week intervals.
If harvesting is done during the dry season, prune mature trees to get rid of unhealthy branches and twigs. Apply coal tar or white lead paint on the surface of cut branch to prevent rotting.
If everything goes well, the yield per tree will not be lower than 5o pods. Properly cared for trees, however, could produce as many as 100 to 150 pods.
Processing and marketing
Before cacao beans are shipped, they undergo some processing. These steps are designed to bring out the best quality of the crop and prolong its storage life.
Fermentation. This vital process brings out delightful chocolate aroma. It dissolves and removes pulps and prevents seeds from germinating.
Source: agribusiness opportunities, MARID Agribusiness