Putting Fertilizers and Integrated Pest Management to Good Use

Some of the gravest problems of farmers have always included pests and diseases, and cacao farmers are no exception. Some of the most popular pests and diseases in cacao are the Cacao Pod Borer (CPB), Vascular Streak Dieback (VSD) and Phytophthora or commonly called Black Pod or Pod Rot.
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Appearance of Phytophthora in different varieties (Photo courtesty of Putter CA)

The workable solution to CPB involves sanitation practices, use of fertilizers, sleeving, insecticides and more tolerant varieties. According to a report summarized by Martin Gilmour of Mars Incorporated about the Asia Pacific Regional Cocoa Research Workshop held last October 12-15, 2015 at the SMX Convention Center at the SM Lanang Premier, the full packaging needs to be used, not merely its parts, in order to be successful.

Although these are some of the most commonly used practices to dealing with CPB, they are not full proof. For instance, sleeving, although understood as the gold standard for protecting against borers, also entails much labor and potential damages to the environment. Another great challenge to using the full package is the weak adoption by farmers. Although many are provided free training for the proper care of cacao trees and prevention of pests and diseases, the actual adoption of farmers on a day-to-day basis is still not as prevalent.

Control Methods for Pests and Diseases

There are ongoing projects and research projects that are aimed towards establishing control methods for CPB. According to Gilmour’s summary, some of the control methods that are being studied and are showing promise include the biology of trichomes, kairomones and pheromones, use of green coffee extracts and promising new insecticides and clones. There is also the possible method of leaving husks to control CPB infestation, however, this needs more data. More importantly, there is a need for a harmonized protocol to measures losses incurred due to CPB infestation.

Other pests and diseases include VSD and Phytophthora. To help manage VSD, there is a need to monitor it over time because its symptoms undergo changes. Its geographical spread remains a mystery also. For Phytophthora, infection usually happens for tall and un-pruned trees or when infected branches are cut down and left on the ground to rot. It is also suggested that once Phytohthora infects pods or branches, these pods or branches must immediately be removed and properly disposed of. Insects are attracted to rotten pods and can help spread the infection. Only tolerant planting material must be used. Seedlings must be covered, trees pruned and bio-fungicides applied. Soil health and sanitation must always be maintained. Gilmour’s summary also says to “use low flow narrow cone angle nozzles”.

The Smart Use of Fertilizers

Farmers must be critical of the contents of the fertilizer they are using. In several cases, farmers use fertilizers to deal with Phytophthora, however, they are using the wrong kind of fertilizer, which only leads to a form of malnutrition for the plant.

It is therefore critical to conduct a soil analysis to understand the nutrient needs of the soil. More importantly, training among farmers should include the discipline of choosing the right kind and right mix of fertilizers for the cacao farms.

Integrated Pest Management

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Chart of the Benefits of IPM (Image courtesy of: The Low County Institute)

One of the best methods to fight against pests and diseases is the adoption of the integrated pest and disease management (IPDM or simply IPM). IPM is the aggregate use of cultural, mechanical and chemical control methods to prevent and deal with infection. The use of naturally occurring impediments to pests and diseases such as pheromones and organic material normally characterizes IPM. It also takes into consideration the possible impact of insecticides or fertilizers on natural pollinators. IPM also considers the qualitative measures for soil health, some of which are identified in Gilmour’s summary namely, cocoa yield, microbe diversity and presence of worms.

IPM is one of the best-known comprehensive methods to encourage productivity in the farm, even outside of cacao. However, the challenge of ensuring that farmers properly learn and adopt the practice remains. Convincing farmers can take time, but one of the ways to begin doing so is allowing them to try the method on mini-blocks of farmland such as 25 trees in a separate farm. Although it takes time, adopting IPM will help fight against pests and diseases and greatly benefit the productivity of farmers.

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