The famous cocoa belt of Soubré in Côte d’Ivoire, a region that produces some of the best quality cocoa, is suffering from tree mortality and subsequent decline in yields. Cocoa farmers have started losing faith on the trees around which they and their families have built their whole lives. Rubber, the new alternative tree crop, is increasingly adopted and provides diversification, but at the same time poses a threat if it becomes a new monoculture erasing cocoa from entire regions. A pilot study conducted in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire tries to explore various measures that can reverse this trend.
First, little is known about the impact of fertilizer in cocoa farms in both countries. How and to which extent does fertilizer affect cocoa farms? How much does it cost, and which returns on investment can be expected? Published by IDH, the study revealed through an experiment by CIRAD, the French agriculture research organization, that fertilizer use on degraded farms with mature trees will have a positive impact on the productivity of cocoa.
Particularly, after one year of applying fertilizer, the degraded trees’ foliage increased and the gain in production was around 20%. Although the increase is little, production jumped significantly in most regions after two years. For example, in Duekué in West Côte d’Ivoire, average yields were 765 kg/ha without fertilizer, but more than doubled to 1890 kg/ha after two years of fertilizer application. Considering relative decline in world prices of fertilizers and expected increase in competition between fertilizer companies, the costs of fertilizer should be $300/ha each year, or less. Although it is costly, the output is impressive. Fertilizer use also slows the rate of tree mortality, produces higher quality pods, and helps fight diseases such as black pod.
Evidently, the success rates of the use of fertilizer is affected by other variables such as level of pesticide application, type of cocoa, age of the tree, rainfall patterns, and types of soil. But in Ghana, which has a relatively high cocoa price paid to smallholders and subsidized fertilizer ($125/ha), even the lowest responses to fertilizer look profitable. On the other hand, Côte d’Ivoire has heavily taxed cocoa and no fertilizer subsidy, so the investment may seem too risky. Cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire purchased close to zero amounts of fertilizer in the mid to late 2000s, and resumed purchase in 2010 when the price of fertilizer dropped.
Most farmers are now aware of their need for fertilizer. The report calculates potential requirement of fertilizer in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to be over 1 million tons, and a potential market of over $500 million. The key takeaway from this report is a business opportunity for the cocoa industry to explore the use of fertilizer to increase yield and quality of cocoa, and build an effective and sustainable industry.
To read the full study, visit http://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/cacao-fertilizer-use
Photo from “Cocoa and fertilizers in West-Africa” by Francois Ruf.
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