Our Readers' Opinions
May 20, 2011
Sustainable cocoa cultivation in a renewable environment

by Dr. Sylvester Lynch 20.MAY.11

I felt compelled to write this article as a response to articles about cocoa farming published in the print media. This is by no means an entry into any ‘political cocoa fray’, rather to point to a scientific approach towards the re-introduction of commercial cultivation of cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).{{more}}

SVG has a history of cocoa growing. Cocoa production declined during the early 1980’s mainly for economic reasons; price fell on the ‘world market’, and around that time banana (then termed green gold) was booming. It became the single most important crop relative to the economy, and as such it contributed 4.5 % to GDP between 1990 and 2004. Also, it was a time to pursue a new agricultural economy, like what is needed at this time, to champion a food industry. The goal must be sustainable cocoa cultivation in a renewable environment that also includes proper utilization of human resource and positive attitudes of all the players. Given a scientific and rational approach to the commercial production of cocoa, I believe that it can benefit producers and the national economy on a whole without endangering human health, food safety and our environment. These must be the concerns of all stakeholders, including consumers.

Pest management

One article about cocoa farming seems to suggest that cocoa cultivation in SVG will attract similar pests, and hence adopt the chemical tactic of pest management, and with the same pesticide regime as those of established cocoa producing countries. Also, that there are no pesticide regulations here in SVG so that very toxic pesticides banned and /or restricted will be used in food production and the greatest danger of the ‘pesticide back-lash’ rest with cocoa production. This need not be the case. It does not matter which crop is cultivated; injudicious use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides threatens lives. I know that at least nine of the chemicals mentioned in the article, namely 2,4,5,-T, aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dinoseb, lindane, heptachlor and monocrotophos were banned over 20 years ago.

The production strategy to be employed is paramount and ought to take into account the agro-ecology, Integrated Crop Management (ICM) of which ecological Pest Management (EPM) is a component. Proper deductions must be made of: soil nutrient status for the appropriate nutrient management; dominance and densities of weed species to ascertain resource competition for the cocoa plants; land equivalent ratio (LER) – it compares yields from growing two or more crops as intercrop with growing the same crops as separate monocultures; pest status to develop strategies for their management and formulate programmes that will teach farms how to produce quality cocoa for economic gains.

No need for excessive pesticide application

There is no need for excessive pesticide application in growing cocoa in SVG. The history of recorded cocoa pests of economic significance will be useful in the application of ecological pest management. Records showed that the beetles Lachnosterna patens, Phyllophaga spp. and Xyleborus spp. and the thrip Selenothrips rubrocinctus were minor pests of cocoa in SVG. In the absence of suitable alternate hosts for these insect pests, their populations will be at insignificant levels; and resurgence of these pests will take some time. This, along with no or very little inoculum source, offers some pest management advantages, especially in the first few years of the re-introduction of cocoa cultivation. Rodents can present a challenge. However, strict pest monitoring will be required so as to establish economic thresholds and ensure that the appropriate measures are taken.

There were reports, in the early 1980s, of two plant diseases, witches broom caused by a fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa and cocoa swollen shoot virus that apparently affected cocoa plants in Three Rivers /Grace Field area. The establishment of these diseases may be uncertain, and it may be useful, at least, to conduct literature searches to verify their statuses in SVG. It was well known that black pod, a disease caused by the fungus Phytopthora palmivora was of economic significance. In an effort to use cost-effective tactics in the management of black pod disease, resistant cultivars were sought. My research project at the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (ECIAF) in Trinidad, 1979 – 1980 was to screen cocoa varieties for resistance / tolerance against this black pod infection. With advancement in biotechnology, there must be improvements in the management of this disease through resistance.

The Plant Protection and Quarantine Unit (PPQU) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has a vital role to play in the in the re-introduction of commercial cultivation of cocoa in SVG. It is this unit that must be vigilant and operate in the strictest sense to avoid the introduction of new cocoa pests and diseases. I believe that the introduction of new cocoa varieties is inevitable, given that producers must satisfy market demands for the required cocoa flavor among others characteristics. In view of the importation of new germplasm (planting material), the PPQU must embarked on conducting pest risk analyses, institute the plant import permits system, carry out proper inspection procedures or testing depending on the type of germplasm imported, effect thorough screening and post entry quarantine system.

Commercial cultivation of cocoa in SVG must be seen in light of sustainable agricultural development and an enhanced national economy. Besides the financial resources, it requires careful planning and methodological approaches by persons with the relevant skills, competencies and aptitudes to champion this enterprise. There must be cooperation among all stakeholders to realize the maximum benefits this cocoa business has to offer. In so doing, I believe lives will be saved without undue risks.

Dr. Sylvester Lynch is an Economic Entomologist and a Plant Health / Pest Management Consultant