I’m motivated to write this article based on my experience and feedback from investors who ventured into cocoa production over the last 5 years. I noticed that existing cocoa farmers and their plantation continues to flourish and develop (though at a low yield). However, there is a famous saying that says ‘Half bread is better than none’.
Either they are producing at a low yield (which can be improved upon) or total failure of the entire cocoa project (died at the first year or unable to reach fruiting stage).
The existing cocoa farmers (experienced farmers) belong to the first category, while most of the new investor or potential cocoa farmers often find themselves in the second category.
What could have been responsible for this?
In fact, over the last 2 years, 90 percent of clients’ inquiries from us has been on Oil Palm establishment.
Why are people running away from Cocoa production, or why are they choosing oil palm over the cocoa business?
Although I will not be talking on reasons why most cocoa farm establishment failed now, I will only be concentrating on ways or step by step to get possible returns from your investment in cocoa business.
Cocoa growing can be a profitable investment when done with care. To grow cocoa in the best way possible, you need to use or adopt the following guidelines;
Seedling selection: I realized that most investors or potential farmers always spend more money on land acquisition without even bargaining the price of the land with the seller. But, when it comes to buying a quality planting material, they start sourcing for the cheapest from disreputable sources.
Let me give you an instance, currently at NIFOR Benin City; Hybrid Tenera sprouted seed is currently being sold for 50,000 naira/pack (500 sprouted nuts/pack). Over the internet and WhatsApp groups, you get to see sellers selling a pack of the sprouted nut at 15,000 naira / 500 pack or 25,000naira per 1000 sprouted nuts.
Where are they getting the seeds from?
You will agree with me that nothing will be gotten from the project. It has failed from Onset. There are situations whereby the entire palm plantation will be sterile.
Therefore, without good quality seedlings, cocoa will not yield enough fruit, no matter other good work or agronomic practices the farmer adopt. Farmers can sometimes use good quality seedlings on their own if they have a good variety on their field. They chose the best seedling to plant. Although, it recommended that farmers or potential farmers should obtain seed at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) Ibadan, Oyo State. This seed produces between 35 to 45 seeds per pod.
Site selection: Cocoa requires a heavy distributed rainfall. It encourages growth and development. Although in a very moist condition, the incidence of black pod diseases can be high. You will have to practice good control measure to protect the crop. There is a need to conduct an initial soil physiochemical analysis to know the initial soil condition (this is part of the service will render in our company).
Shade and Windbreak requirement: Cocoa trees, up to 4 years old requires to be grown under temporary shade. The shade should not be dense. It should be planted in such a way that protects the plant from scorching sunlight, high wind. After the first 4years, cocoa can be grown in full sunlight. When the plant is grown in full sunlight, it bears more than those planted under shade. The plant should be sheltered from strong winds and do not plant the field in facing the persistent high wind.
In the first few years of the cocoa establishment, cash crop such as plantain, banana, and pumpkin, can be used as temporary shade and also give early cash return on the production. Suitable shade is necessary for ideal condition. The plant thrives on 70 percent sunlight; therefore, the shade used should be not dense. You can also have an additional income by using economic fruits or forest trees as permanent shade.
Temporary shade should be removed after 4 or 5 years when the canopy of cocoa tree begins to meet. Windbreaks should be planted on the side of the field which faces persistent winds. Plants like mango are excellent windbreak because they grow rapidly and should be planted 6 to 10 feet apart for best effect.
Planting cocoa: Cocoa grown from cuttings should be planted at a spacing of 3.5m by 3.5m apart. Hybrid seedlings that have less spreading canopy can be planted at a spacing of 3m by 3m apart.
However, it is necessary to prepare the site before the planning date. Establish temporary shade and wait until sufficient rain is assured. Control erosion with proper drains and barriers. However, drain and barriers may not be necessary when soil is free draining.
If you want to use Banana or plantains as temporary shade, it should be planted 2.5m by 2.5 or 3.5m by 3.5m apart. Permanent shade (the windbreaker) should be planted at 10 to 11m apart (36 ft).
For people living in Osun State or areas that Breadfruits thrive, the plant can also be used as permanent shade. When you used it as permanent shade, it should be planted 22m apart (72 ft).
Planting site should be prepared in advance to allow the soil to settle before actual planting. Dig holes 18-inch depth by 18 inches wide (1.5 ft or 45cm). Pour into the hole, 3inches (8cm) manure or compost and fill with topsoil, so that the young plant can have a ready source of good nutrients needed to grow.
The actual time of planting depends on the assurance of rainfall or irrigation. Do not plant until the rainy season when you can expect about a month of good weather.
Plant must be carefully handled during transplanting to prevent shocks to the plant. The plastic bags or polyethene bags should be removed or tear carefully. After planting, cover and firm the soil gently around the base of the plant. After planting, a stake is necessary for upward grow and to prevent the plants from falling over.
In the next article, I shall be talking more about the Management Practices, Fertilizer application and reasons why most Cocoa farm project fail.