Life On A Cocoa Farm
Cocoa farming is the principal income for more than 1 million Indonesian families, 500,000 of which are in Sulawesi producing 60% of all Indonesia's cocoa.
Sulawesi cocoa farms are largely small holder based (99%). The average income for cocoa farming families is around US$1,500 per annum based on typical market prices of US$2,000 ton and productivity of around 700kg per hectare.
Cocoa farming is labour intensive, and most often a husband and wife team work together on the farm, particularly during pruning and harvest periods, when the extended family may join in to help.
The main activities for the cocoa farming family include:
- Tree and farm management - Regular inspection and monitoring for pests and diseases, pruning, clearing the farm floor, fertilizing and composting as required.
- Harvesting: Cocoa trees are typically harvested every two weeks for up to eight months of the year. The pods are split open by hand usually using a wooden sick. The open pod reveals the cocoa beans covered in a sweet pulp.
- Drying: After the beans are removed they are laid out on a tarpaulin plastic (for where they will dry in the sun for up to 5 days. Fermentation practices are very seldom followed in Sulawesi.
The cocoa farmer will typically sell their dried cocoa to a local collector who will then sell to a bigger collector, trader or a processing factory. The price of cocoa is largely determined by the world price (NY Terminal price) less logistics and supply chain margins but the system is often less efficient when competition is limited in remote areas or through advance payment practices that tie farmers to a particular buyer.
Cocoa farming families + well managed cocoa farms = chocolate for the consumer. If cocoa farming families do not have access to programs like Cocoa Care to help them reinvigorate their farms there will be no cocoa or chocolate to enjoy.
Cacao - Fruit of the Gods
Cocoa is the name used for products made from the seeds (cocoa beans) of the “Cacao” tree. Cacao is the botanical name for the tree, the fruit pods and unprocessed seeds.
The Cacao tree is native to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon Basin and in other places from Mexico to Peru.
The Mayans of the Yukatan and the Aztecs of Mexico cultivated cacao thousands of years ago and the great Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, consumed it as a drink called “xpcplati” made by mashing cacao tree seeds with water, maize and spices. The Aztecs believed that cacao was of divine origin and considered the drink an aphrodisiac. They valued cacao so much that they the seeds as a currency.
Columbus found cacao in 1502 and Don Cortez, who recognised the commercial value as a drink, took it to Spain in 1528 where they added sugar and spices to improve the taste.
The Spanish grew cacao in Trinidad, keeping it a secret for 100 years until the secret got out and the trees were grown in other islands of the West Indies, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Cacao was introduced into Africa in the 1890’s.
The popularity of cocoa spread across Europe and JS Fry opened the first factory to produce it in 1728. In 1828, Van Houten of Holland separated the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder, leading to the development of molded block chocolate, chocolate coatings and Milk Chocolate.
The total world crop in 2012 was just over 4 million tones with Indonesia being the third largest growing region in the world.
Sulawesi produces around 60% of Indonesian cacao and is a critical source of income for more than 500,000 farming families in Sulawesi.
An increasing number of local factories in South Sulawesi process the cacao beans into value added cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
Cacao, like other crops is subject to attack by pests and diseases and farmers must manage their farms for maximum productivity, quality and long term sustainability.