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Cocoa growing boosts lives in Mukono

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th March 2009 03:00 AM

F you are a cocoa farmer in Kasawo sub-county, Mukono district and you fail to pay school fees for your children, you will face the wrath of Bukaddemagezi Cocoa Growers Association, says Joseph Mukasa.

F you are a cocoa farmer in Kasawo sub-county, Mukono district and you fail to pay school fees for your children, you will face the wrath of Bukaddemagezi Cocoa Growers Association, says Joseph Mukasa.

Everyday till the end of this month, The New Vision will run a series of stories on wealth creation role models from all over the country for Ugandans who would like to learn from them to generate wealth from our natural resources

By John Kasozi

IF you are a cocoa farmer in Kasawo sub-county, Mukono district and you fail to pay school fees for your children, you will face the wrath of Bukaddemagezi Cocoa Growers Association, says Joseph Mukasa.

Mukasa, a cocoa farmer in Mindi-Kasawo village, says since cocoa growing was introduced in the area in 1959, every homestead has been able to educate their children up to university level. “Failing to pay children’s fees is tantamount to a grave offence. There is good money in cocoa growing.”

“Look at that bald headed-man,” he says, pointing at a man carrying fresh cocoa beans on a bicycle. “He holds a master’s degree and was classmate to the late state minister for agriculture, Dr. Israel Kibirige Ssebunya. He knows very well what cocoa has done for the community. That is why he stayed back to practise cocoa farming,” he says.

When Mukasa starts enumerating the advantages of cocoa growing, you could think it is a mere exaggeration, but he has proof to justify his statements.

Henry Lwanga, the Kasawo sub-county Cocoa Development Programme (CDO) extension officer says: “Prior to cocoa’s introduction, Kasawo enjoyed a robust coffee economic boom, but when the coffee wilt disease struck, many farmers left the business.”

In 1959, three progressive farmers: Antonia Kayongo, Yusuf Kizito and Solomon Nsubuga were selected as the first cocoa model farmers. Each of them planted cocoa on two acres after successful trials at the Entebbe Botanical Garden and in Kituza in Mukono.

In 1962, Mukasa started growing cocoa on two acres and expanded the farm to four acres after two years.

“Due to insecurity during Idi Amin’s regime, many farmers lost interest in growing the crop. Buyers also wanted the cocoa processed before being delivered to their stores,” says Mukasa. To protect their rights, the farmers formed an association which has over 200 members.

When President Yoweri Museveni took over power in 1986, farmers resumed growing the crop. People made cocoa their main cash crop. Soon, houses built with bricks and corrugated ironsheets sprang up.

Lwanga, Solomon Nsubuga’s grandson, has learnt a lot about cocoa. He says he intercrops cocoa with coffee and bananas on six acres. Lwanga holds a diploma and degree in agriculture, majoring in cocoa growing. He vows to pass on the knowledge to other farmers.

“I have the responsibility of raising seedlings and training farmers in Kasawo. The seedlings are given out free to farmers in Kasawo, Sseeta-Namuganga and Nakifuma,” Lwanga says.

He says they grow the obroma cocoa varieties: trintario and upper Amazon which have a high fat content. The amazon is characterised by deep gloves, while trintario’s gloves have a smooth surface.

According to the 1999 Mukono district environment profile, 5,570 hectares are under cocoa growing. Lwanga urges farmers from other areas to take on cocoa growing.

Mukasa says he processes a minimum of two tonnes of cocoa beans a year. “I did not know that I earn a lot of money until I crosschecked my records. I was really shocked.”

Lwanga says one of the major challenge for farmers is record keeping. “Each cocoa acre produces between 600kg to 1,000kg a year. With the current farm gate price of sh3,000 per kilogramme, a farmer earns between sh1.8m to sh3m per acre per year.”

In January, the cocoa price in Kasawo was sh3,500 per kilogramme, but slumped to sh2,800 in February. From his 12.5 acres, Mukasa earns between sh22m to sh30m per annum.

He says as prices soar, they have to watch out for thieves.

“At night, they sneak into people’s plantations with torches and cut the pods.”

Mukasa says all his assets — house, motorcycle and other essential items — were bought using proceeds from cocoa. Above all, he has been able to pay his children’s school fees.

Robert Kaggwa, a cocoa farmer from Kasenge village, says he has opened up more land for cocoa growing. “Cocoa farm gate prices are more stable compared to other crops. The beans are heavy and dry faster than coffee. On average, I earn about sh1.8m to sh3m per annum from one acre, depending on the management.”

Ben Lubwama, a farmer from Luseera village, cries out that they are faced with capside pest and monkeys. “We want to go organic like our colleagues in Bundibugyo.” He urges the Government to give them continuous training. “But training should be accompanied with some facilitation like lunch to attract our colleagues.”

Hassan Nganda, a cocoa buyer at Kasawo trading centre, says farmers are paid on spot. “If you do not pay them, other buyers will do so.”

Mukasa and his family, including other farmers insist that training of farmers in their sub-county should be carried out by other agencies and not the National Agriculture Advisory Services, saying they are inconsistent.

“On two occasions, they instructed me to call farmers for training, but they only turned up at 6:00pm.

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How to grow, process cocoa

Origin and distribution
The cocoa tree is a native of the Amazon basin and other tropical areas of south and central America, where wild varieties still grow in the forests, but the cocoa growing area has extended to the Caribbean and Africa.

Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in a narrow belt 10 degrees on either side of the equator. Cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates with regular rains and a short dry season. The trees need even temperatures between 21-23 degrees Celsius, with a fairly constant rainfall of 1000-2500mm per year.

Different types of cocoa are grown in various areas. In Australia, Cadbury uses high quality cocoa beans sourced from Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivore and Asia.

In Africa, cocoa was first planted in Ghana in 1879. Ghana is now a major world producer. There are 40 to 50 million people worldwide who depend on cocoa for their livelihood.

Setting up a plantation
Every year, Lwanga pots over 60,000 seedlings during the dry season (October and November) using the top forest (alluvial) soils. The composition of the soil has to be neutral, neither acid nor alkaline.

The seedlings take six months to grow before they are transplanted at the onset of the first rains (in March-April-May) or in the second rains (October-November-December). The spacing should be 3m x 3m (10ftx10ft) and the planting hole 2ft x 2ft deep and wide. Manure can be applied if it is available. About 435 seedlings are needed for an acre. Once the seedlings are established, the farmers must watch them closely for signs of distress.

Cocoa trees need a shade, therefore, they should be planted under mature tall tropical trees or intercropped with bananas and coffee trees.

If the land does not have any other plant on it, interplant cocoa with beans and Musizi trees to control wind and strong tropical sunlight at a spacing of 20ft x 20ft (32 trees per acre).

In the forest, prune out the broad tree branches and slash the undergrowth. Carry out shallow or hand weeding or slashing around the plant. Be careful not to harm the roots. When the cocoa canopy establishes, it will suppress grass or any plant beneath it.

It is important to prune the cocoa tree during the early stages. Cocoa requires filtered sunlight through trees.

Sustainable management of shade trees like Musizi, grumixana, sapote and breadfruit allows the farmer to earn extra income from timber and fruits. It also maintains or increases the cocoa bean production each year.

Cocoa starts flowering and putting on pods at two-and-half years and ripens in the third year. In the fifth year, it increases pods, depending on the management.

July is the first peak harvesting season and November-December the second. But every fortnight, farmers harvest cocoa pods.

A cocoa tree reaches peak production in 10 years and will continue producing pods for an additional 12-13 years. Shade-grown cocoa trees can produce pods for 75 to 100 years or more.

Under-ripe pods have low cocoa butter content, while over-ripe ones may contain microbes, which affect the fermentation process and the chocolate flavour.

The pods grow as green or maroon pods on the trunk and the main branches. Shaped like an elongated melon, the pods ripen to a golden colour. It is important to keep the cocoa plantation grounds well-weeded such that the fallen pods can be seen and collected.

Major diseases
Cocoa cannot be infected by bacteria wilt. However, Lwanga says the most formidable obstacle to cocoa farmers is Nzirugaze, a parasite plant that grows on the branches of the cocoa trees.

Processing and fermentation After harvesting, cocoa pods are split open. The beans are removed along with pulp, put in buckets, carried to the fermentation boxes and covered with fresh banana leaves.

Lwanga explains that each of his boxes ‘A and B’ accommodates 700kg. After three days, the beans are scooped out from ‘Box A’ and put in ‘Box B’ for two days.

Then, back to ‘Box A’ for two more days to attain full fermentation uniformity.

The beans are stirred everyday using a wooden shovel. Avoid using a metal shovel as this affects flavour development. After the seventh day, a bean-cut-test is done to ascertain whether the beans have fully fermented.

If the inside of the bean has turned to the mahogany-brownish colour with a chocolate flavour, then they are ready.

If the bean is purplish inside, leave it for another day. When the beans are ready, they are put out in the sunlight to dry on a raised platform/rack, tarpaulin or mats. Cocoa beans are fermented to stop them from germinating and to develop the chocolate taste through a special chemical reaction called the ‘maillard’ reaction.

After fermentation, the beans have a moisture content of 55% to 60%. Drying should reduce the moisture content to 7% to allow safe storage before roasting.

The beans take between four to seven days to dry, depending on the intensity of the sunlight.

During this time, foreign matter like cocoa husks, fragments and placentas are sorted out.

Dried beans are packed in sisal bags, stitched and stored on racks. The store should be free of oils and perfumes. Cocoa is hygroscopic. It absorbs foreign bodies easily. Cocoa is now ready for chocolate making.
- Compiled by John Kasozi

Cocoa beans are still the source of commercial cocoa. The four intermediate cocoa products are cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, (cocoa cake and powder) and chocolate. Although the market for chocolate is the largest consumer of cocoa beans, intermediate products such as cocoa powder and cocoa butter are used in several areas.

Cocoa powder is essentially used as flavour in cakes, biscuits, ice cream, dairy drinks (beverage industry) and in the manufacture of coatings for confectioners or frozen desserts. Besides the traditional uses, cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of tobacco, soap and cosmetics. It is also a traditional remedy for burns, cough, dry lips, fever, malaria, rheumatism, snakebites and wounds. It is reported to be an antiseptic.

Lwanga says cocoa pod husks are useful. After removing the beans in Nigeria, they are dried, crushed and mixed with other poultry feeds. Husks are used as organic fertilisers and in liquid soap making. They are burnt to ash, dissolved in water and boiled, then filtered to get liquid soap.
The liquid that comes out with pulp is used to make cocoa juice, wine and jam.

Cocoa trade
More Ugandan farmers are now engaged in cocoa production to supplement their household incomes, according to the Cocoa Development Organisation.

Bundibugyo district accounts for a 60% share of all the cocoa grown in Uganda where ESCO Uganda Limited has established a factory to dry the beans to international standards. Uganda’s cocoa beans are bought by exporters like UGACOF Coffee Exporters and Processors, ESCO, Olam Uganda Limited and Bakwanye.

In the last five years, there has been a considerable growth in Uganda’s major export markets mainly in Switzerland, Singapore, Netherlands, UK, US and Malaysia, according to Strategic Market Forecast for Uganda’s Export Product, October 2008.

Uganda’s cocoa exports represent 0.22% of the world exports and its global ranking position is number 18.

The world cocoa trade has been growing at an average of 5% per year and cocoa is a high-value crop.

Cocoa export values grew 59% from sh19b ($10m) in 2006 to sh30.5b ($15.9m) in 2007.
Uganda has over 250,000 hectares certified for organic cocoa production.

Compiled by John Kasozi

Cocoa growing boosts lives in Mukono

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