Every now and then in cocoa sustainability work it’s very useful to take stock of where we are on a particular topic, share ideas and put experts together. At the end of last year we did this for the areas of cocoa soils and use of fertilizer in cocoa production. We started work on our Vision For Change program in Ivory Coast and have been working in Indonesia for years, and we knew that in both regions managing soil fertility and the use of fertilizer was essential for the sustainable productivity in cocoa that we want to see. So, we felt it was a good idea to take stock of what was going on in both regions and create an opportunity for Mars cocoa sustainability associates, African and Asian experts to get together to learn and plan for the future.
We chose Bangkok as a convenient venue for the group to meet, including Mars Cocoa Sustainability Team associates from UK, Australia, Ivory Coast and Indonesia, ICRAF (our V4C implementation agency), research institutes from Ivory Coast and Indonesia, and consultants and experts in fertilizers and economics.
Cocoa soils in Ivory Coast were discussed extensively and ICRAF introduced their Cocoa Surveillance System, which will be used in the V4C project area. This is a way of collecting data and targeting interventions, especially in the area of land health. Also covered were discussions on cocoa soils in Indonesia, with a lot of information from the old Prima project, which carried out a lot of soil and leaf analyses that was linked to farmer profit and loss analysis. Earthworms were highlighted as being hugely important as indicators of soil health and at liberating nutrients.
We need to be able to advise farmers and help them make the right crop decisions. Whatever we do, it has to maintain soils for cocoa production. It should be possible to progressively correct soils, making them more suitable for cocoa.
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We had other excellent sessions on relationships between soil fertility and pests/diseases, soils and heavy metal uptake, formulation and application of cocoa fertilizers, and composting. For cocoa, we can conclude that no fertilizer means decreasing soil fertility, declining crop productivity, decreased pest and disease resistance, poorer bean quality and less fat content.
Overall we had a fantastic, participative, highly useful 2 day meeting on cocoa soils and fertilizer. We all left Bangkok better informed about work in Africa and Asia, with greater clarity on the collaborative work in each region. We also left with many ideas on how to improve work in this area and all felt excited about using new fertilizer(s) and techniques to improve cocoa productivity.