Using fertiliser on degraded farms with mature trees can double cocoa production, according to a study funded by Mars.
Industry players were previously unsure how and to what extent fertiliser affected cocoa farms, but the present study claims that two years of fertilisation can rejuvenate haggard farms to significantly boost production and quality of beans.
A group of industry frontrunners has already begun setting targets for distributing fertiliser to suppliers to make the cocoa industry attractive to fertiliser companies.
The study was led by Francois Ruf from French agricultural research centre CIRAD and was funded by The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), chemical company Yara and Mars.
Findings were presented at the 21st World Cocoa Foundation Partnership meeting, an event sponsored by Mars, Kraft Foods and Hershey.
Research was conducted between 2008 and 2011 in the two largest cocoa growing countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast, where cocoa farmers in the core cocoa belt Soubré are suffering crop declines.
“Some cocoa farmers have started losing faith in ‘their tree’, around which they and their families have built their whole lives,” said the study.
“If nothing is done, the ‘cocoa belt of Sobré may well become the next ‘rubber belt,’” it continued.
Fertilisers used by 3% of farmers
The study said that fertiliser production could boost cocoa farmers’ confidence by making ageing trees productive again and it also positively impacts the long-term viability of the cocoa farm by reducing rates of tree mortality.
Fertilisers such as chicken manure is currently used by only 3% of farmers in both countries combined, said Ruf, and use is subsided by the government in Ghana, but no such subsidies exist in the Ivory Coast.
The study said that it came as no surprise that the level of fertiliser purchases by cocoa farmers was close to nil in the Ivory Coast between the mid to late 2000s.
Chocolate manufacturers and other industry players are being urged to invest in fertiliser-use to ensure cocoa reaches their factories in the long-term and at stable prices.
The IDH has begun linking fertiliser organisations with financial institutions and farmer cooperatives to build a sustainable cocoa supply network.
The study concluded that the industry must make fertiliser profitable to overcome price volatility by changing the price ratio of 1 kg or cocoa to 1 kg of fertiliser to 3 or 4 kg of cocoa against the same amount of fertiliser.