The Foundational Role of Soil Management on Sustainable Productivity

Soil nutrition and management refers to understanding of the different soil types and implementing interventions based on the specific needs of each soil type for best plant performance. According to a draft meeting summary of the Asia Pacific Regional Cocoa Research Workshop last October 12-15, 2015 at the SMX Convention Center accomplished by Martin Gilmour of Mars Incorporated, cocoa nutrition aims to accomplish 100% productive trees. It can be characterized by having more fruits, less trees, where the weight of pods should be twice the weight of leaves.

The use of organic matter is crucial to soil nutrition, according to the summary draft, as well as understanding its physical, chemical and biological functions and how it can contribute towards optimal cacao production.

The Truth about Fertilizers

In order to help ensure the productivity of cacao plants, choosing the right genetic material is key. However, to supplement the growth of the plant, fertilizers are a common secondary solution (see here to read the article on how to put fertilizers to good use). Fertilizers are designed to meet specific nutrition needs for plants. The summary draft mentions that Vietnam is a country with 100% farmer fertilizer usage. In the Philippines, however, the same could not be said. The summary cites that many fertilizers in distribution are confirmed to be fake and not helpful to plants. According to reports, most recent fertilizer advice is from 1980s and that 61% of farmers don’t get advice on fertilizer uses.

The Asia Pacific Regional Cacao Research Workshop discussed the need to establish the critical role the government could play in monitoring fertilizer quality and usage among cacao farms. During the workshop, the International Fertilizer for Cacao Working Group (INFERTICAO) was created to facilitate in dealing with fertilizer-related issues. Other than creating the group, there is a strong need for more research on proper fertilizer application as well as the composition of fertilizers that specific regional farms need now and in preparation for farm changes in the future. It is suggested that the first task of INFERTICAO is the development of fertilizer-ready farms.

Other than the correct choice and usage of fertilizers, cacao farmers must also be provided the correct tools to measure soil condition such as fruit productivity, presence and diversity of worms and soil smell, to name a few. Having the correct measures for soil condition can aid farmers in decision-making, whether changes in terms of variety and fertilizer choice should be made.

'Boy this is a great garden: You can taste the natural compost and fertilizer...'

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Farm management for improved productivity

Perhaps the most comprehensive way to train farmers in handling fertilizers and soil nutrition is by teaching them about farm management. This provides a wide scale view of their farm’s productivity, both in the technical and business aspects. This calls for providing the farmer an improved understanding of who his market is, what their needs are and how these needs can guide how he runs his farm.

Farm management also encompasses knowledge about good farming practices such as intercropping and farm diversification. There are several farms that serve as good examples on intercropping cacao with rubber or banana as well as planting cacao with several cash crops around it.

According to the summary draft, in the future, industry leaders should provide access to knowledge and skills regarding flowering/pollination and individual tree management as well as access to decision support tools. It also suggests incorporating sustainable modernization practices such as fertigation (or the inclusion of fertilizers and other water-soluble compounds into an irrigation system) and canopy architecture (or the arrangement and structure that the topmost parts of trees take because of the species’ unique way to best capture light and in consideration of the diversity of plants surrounding that species).

Soil management should therefore serve as the foundation that can enable farmers to be smart about the use of fertilizers and begin the good practice of farm management. Only with this kind of foundation can there be a successful introduction and adoption of modern and innovative technologies that other countries are using to advance in the world cacao market.

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