MUKONO – Many of us not only love our chocolate but even crave it. So, it comes as no surprise that some people would like to grow their own Cocoa tree.
The question is how to grow cocoa beans from cocoa tree seeds? The Researchers at the National Crops Resources Research Institute have now started efforts to sensitise the public on growing of Cocoa as a thriving business.
National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), in Kituuza, Mukono, under Naro, has vast Cocoa disease-resistant varieties produced via biotechnology to enable farmers get high yields from coffee and income generation.
NaCRRI is pushing for the planting of hybrid cocoa varieties which mature earlier and are resistant to pest and diseases in order to reduce the cost of production while also encouraging more farmers to grow the crop.
Mr. Julius Twine, the agri-business manager at NACRRI in Kituuza explained that the institute has started growing Cocoa for seedlings and is encouraging farmers to produce more cocoa and get out of poverty.
Mr. Twine told PML Daily that a kilogramme of dry cocoa beans at local farm-gate prices in Uganda currently range from Shs 6500/kg – 9,000/kg for dry cocoa beans with the mean annual farm yield estimated at 550 to 1,300kg/Hectare.
As the cocoa tree matures, it produces more fruit. Mr. Twine says a 15-year-old tree can produce more than 15kg of dry beans adding that an acre contains about 400 trees.
“This means you can get 7,000 kg of dry beans in one season and although the price fluctuates a cocoa farmer have a mechanism to endure,” said Mr. Twine.
He said Cocoa is currently it is the fourth top foreign exchange earner for Uganda after coffee, fish and tea, currently fetching over US$ 70 million annually.
Records at NACRRI indicate that Uganda has about 21,000 hectares of land under cocoa cultivation, of which 6,054 have mature productive cocoa plantations and over 11,790 ha are covered by young cocoa planted.
“And our target is to increase the number of farmers cultivating Cocoa because currently Cocoa is grown by 15,000-18,000 smallholder households scattered in central, mid-western and mid-eastern regions of the country,” said Mr Twine.
Where Cocoa is grown
Dr. William Wogoire, the former director of National Coffee Research Institute in Kituza said Uganda’s geographical location and agro-climatic conditions favour cocoa production i.e. can grow well in areas under robusta coffee production.
He revealed that major districts producing cocoa as Bundibugyo, Mukono, Jinja, Mayuge, Kibaale, Hoima, Mpigi, Luwero, Buikwe, Kamuli and parts of Mbale.
He said the cost of establishing the cocoa field and maintaining the young cocoa is off-set by income from bananas, beans etc which are inter-planted in the young cocoa and that besides being a perennial crop, the costs of establishment remain a fixed cost adding that a cocoa plant has an economic life of over 50 years.
“It is estimated that a net profit of Shs7,570,000ha can be obtained from well-managed field can be obtained after 4 years and of first cropping cycle, this means that Cocoa production is a potential candidate to simultaneously guarantee a competitive return to investment for farmers in Uganda to attain Uganda’s vision 2040,” said Dr Wagoire.
Preparation tips ahead of the planting season
According to the Cocoa breeder at NARO Mr. Job Chemtai, Cocoa requires deep, fertile soils with PH range 4.5-6.0 topsoil of 15cm, rainfall ranging from 1,250 to 2,000mm per annum well distributed throughout the year. Cocoa is easily hurt by prolonged drought.
Mr. Chemtai says the land should be weed free, all unwanted trees should be removed and Bananas should be planted to provide temporary shade and that later Musizi trees should be planted to provide a permanent shade in the cocoa field
“As a farmer, you also need to do field marking should to be able to determine the optimum number of cocoa seedlings to be planted in a given area and enables attaining the right spacing,” said Mr. Chemtai.
He said like coffee, cocoa is planted at spacing of 10ft * 10ft (3m * 3m) square= 435 plants/acre, Plant shade trees (Musizi) at 40feet * 40feet (12meters * 12meters), Dig a hole of 2 feet (60cm) deep and 2 feet wide to allow proper root development, planted in free draining soils
Dr. Wogoire says marked outlines should follow the contours across the slope to minimise soil erosion and that planting holes should be dug 1 month before planting to allow soil to settle and cool.
Dr. Wagoire says Cocoa is a wild plant and can be suitable to cultivate it in a bushy or forest like environment where the trees are not exposed to direct sunrays but remain in shades.
“Topsoil and sub-soil should be separated, the soil mixed with well-fermented manure and filled back into the hole where you are going to plant your Cocoa tree,” said Dr Wogoire.
Mr. Chemtai says planting of Cocoa should be done at the on-set of the rainy season and that necessary care should be taken to remove potting bags from the seedlings and safely disposing them.
He said generally, cocoa does not need many fertilisers after planting because the trees generate fertilizers by dropping leaves which leaves decompose and make manure.
Mr. Chemtai says farmers should ensure that the weeds don’t grow and don’t spray the weed using chemicals because chemicals destroy the quality of cocoa.
“Just weed with my hoe and the Cocoa plant starts bearing fruits between three to four years but ensure that every six months you trim the trees removing excessive branches to allow the rest bear more and good fruits,” added Mr. Chemtai.
Information from the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) currently indicates that at farm gate prices, fresh cocoa beans ranges from Shs3, 000 to Shs4, 500 while that of dry beans is at Shs65,00 to Shs9000 depending on location and quality.
Records indicate that Cocoa is sold at $3,000 per ton while the farm-gate price for dry bean fluctuates between $ 2272 and $ 2575 per ton depending on the location.
Mr. Christopher Kibazanga, the state minister for agriculture says farmers need to be trained on how to grow the crop because it is a specialized crop and that farmers should also be equipped with the necessary skills on how to grow cocoa and process it.
“It is a very viable crop with a high global demand and what is needed urgently is adding value so that Uganda can export processed cocoa. And as Uganda Investment Authority embarks on the compilation of bankable projects, this should be one of the priority projects,” said Mr. Kibazanga.
The export records indicate that since July 2015, 26,412 metric tons of cocoa were exported by December 2015 fetching a total export earnings of [$72.536m] (Shs244.3b).
The major cocoa promoters and buyers in Uganda include; Swisscontact, ICAM chocolate (U) ltd, Esco (U) ltd, UGADEN, Semuliki Co-op Society Ltd. Ends