Better methods to boost cacao crop


The area under cocoa in Viet Nam will quadruple in a decade to 80,000ha under a Government programme if the country strengthens its agricultural extension activities to improve farmers’ growing and other techniques, a conference heard in HCM City yesterday.

Speaking at the conference, the annual meeting of the Viet Nam Cacoa Co-ordination Committee (VCC), the deputy head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Cultivation Department and deputy chairman of the VCC, Nguyen Van Hoa, said cocoa prices had increased dramatically in recent years.
It rose from VND29,000 per kilogramme in 2007 to VND50,000-VND60,000 now, encouraging more and more farmers to grow cacao trees, he said.
Cacao is grown mainly in 10 provinces in the south and the Central Highlands, though Ben Tre and Dak Lak accounted for 70 per cent of the 4,873 tonnes of dried beans produced last year.
Tong Khiem, VCC chairman, said though the area under cacao in Viet Nam was very modest, its cocoa beans were among the best in the world, especially those grown in Ben Tre Province.
Nguyen Minh Thanh, Strategy Analyst at Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate Company in the Netherlands, said global demand for cocoa and chocolate was expected to continue rising strongly.
Besides traditional markets like the US and western Europe, the demand for cocoa from mainland China, India, and Japan also increased recently, he said.
However, the increase in world output would not keep space with demand since in many major producing countries it has shrunk dramatically due to climate change, offering Viet Nam an opportunity, he said.
Hoa said four businesses in Viet Nam received the UTZ certification for growing cacao which testified to agricultural quality standards.
Many provinces were co-operating with international organisations to set up organic farming models for the bean, he said.
Though there has been an increase in the area under cacao, the farming was scattered and small-scale while investment by the Government remained inadequate, Khiem said.
Thanh concurred with Khiem, saying the Government should subsidise cacao growers since it took three to five years for farmers to break even.
Besides, it should step up co-operation with international organisations like Rabobank of the Netherlands that focused on agri-businesses so that farmers could access cheaper capital, he said.
Dr Pham Hong Duc Phuoc of HCM City’s Agricultural and Forestry University, also a VCC deputy chairman, said: "Since cacao is still a relatively new tree in Viet Nam, farmers do need training in planting techniques."
He urged local authorities to work with agricultural extension centers to develop more programmes to teach farmers new planting techniques.
Hoa said scientists and agricultural research institutes should focus on research to create new high-quality seedlings, better cultivation techniques, and measures to prevent pests.
He also recommended that farmers not harvest the beans before they reach maturity to ensure cocoa bean quality.
Delegates at the conference called on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to come up with zoning plans for cacao cultivation so that each province could make their own plans.
They also urged it and other relevant agencies to draw up standards for cocoa quality and resolve the unhealthy competition between local and foreign businesses in buying the beans.

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