Despite the fact that Uganda has been producing coffee for some time now, it still does not compete well on the international market and this is due to the fact that there is low production of cocoa in the country and many farmers are not aware of the need for cocoa in the world. There are different varieties of cocoa that are grown in Uganda but the main two include the Criollo and the Forastero. The Criollo is a high quality grade of cocoa and it produces soft pods as compared to the rest and it has about 20 to 30 beans inside each pod. The beans have a chocolate flavor and the pods have a reddish color when they are ripe. The Forastero cocoa has pale purple beans and has hard pods even when they are ripe.
Growing of cocoa has a lot of benefits besides earning farmers money and some of these include helping to keep the human body healthy, the cocoa husks can be used as manure for gardens and it is also food to the consumers. However there are challenges that come with cocoa growing and these include the pests and diseases that attack the crops, weeds, a low market demand on the local scene, lack of knowledge by the farmers on how to care for the cocoa and the ever changing climate in the country.
Planting of cocoa In Uganda
The seeds that are planted should be having roots and these are got from the previous seeds that have been stored well and disease free. The seeds should not dry because the moment they become dry they will not be able to germinate once they are planted. You need to store them in a cool dry place in a wet cloth where they will get moist and start sprouting roots. The cocoa rooted seeds can be placed in either pots or polythene bags after properly mixing the soil with manure and other required fertilizers. After placing the seeds in the soil vertically, wrap plastic around the pot or bag to keep them moist. The plastic wrap should be removed after 20 days and by the time it is removed, the cocoa beans have already sprouted leaves and are ready for transplanting. Make sure you water the main garden before transplanting and this should be done either in the morning or in the evening when the sun is not overhead.
Pests and diseases that affect cocoa
There are several diseases that affect cocoa and a few of them have been listed below explaining how they affect the cocoa and how to deal with them.
- Frosty pod disease: this affects the pods and it can easily be identified with the brown spots that appear on the pods. It can be prevented from spreading by cutting down the infected part and also applying copper.
- Cocoa swollen shoot: it is caused by a virus and mainly affects shoots and leaves causing them to swell. It can easily spread when the cocoa trees are next to each other and therefore you need to plant the cocoa trees with at least a spacing of 33 feet.
- Witch’s broom: this is when the cocoa branches do not produce any fruit and the leaves start losing their color. It is caused by fungi and the best way to avoid it from spreading is by cutting down the infected part and also spraying fungicides on the cocoa.
- The cocoa pod borer: this is caused by insect larvae entering inside the pod as it grows. It makes the beans stick to the pods making it difficult to harvest the cocoa and separate the two. The only way you can prevent this is by placing plastic bags on the pods as they grow to prevent insects from laying eggs on the pod.
Harvesting of the cocoa
harvesting of cocoa normally depends on the variety that is planted but the average cocoa takes 5 to 6 months before it ripens. The cocoa is ready for harvesting when it makes a hollow sound after tapping it and the seeds inside keep making a sound when the pod is shaken. The colors of the pods also change to either orange or yellow when they are rips. Using sharp pangas, the cocoa fruits are cut off from the tree and collected in large baskets without causing damage to the fruits and while cutting the fruit, make sure that you do not damage the buds.
After harvesting, the next part is separating the cocoa beans from the pods. This is done 10 days after harvesting and you can use something strong to crack the pod open although there are machines that can also help in separating the beans from the pods. Many farmers in Uganda use their hands due to limited finances and once the beans are separated from the pods, they are placed in wooden boxes and the pods are discarded to create manure for the gardens.
After harvesting, the next step is processing the cocoa and there are three stages that are involved in cocoa processing and these include the following:
there are two methods that are involved in fermentation and these are the use of sweating boxes and the heaping method. The heaping method is what most of the local farmers use in the country since it is cheap and easy to use and it involves placing wet cocoa beans under shade and covering them with banana leaves for at least 6 days. The sweating boxes are rarely used but these are boxes that have holes to prevent the cocoa from rotting but the seeds are placed so that fermentation takes place.
Winnowing of the seeds
after fermentation has taken place, the beans are sun dried and then winnowing is carried out by the farmer to separate the good cocoa beans from the bad ones.
Storing and transportation
after drying and winnowing of beans, they are stored in a clean cool dry place to avoid damages to the beans before they are transported to the market for sale.
There is a large market for both processed and unprocessed cocoa and therefore farmers should get involved in cocoa growing on a large scale so as to be able to compete on the international market.