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Cocoa: Popularizing The Chocolate Plant For Big Cash

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By Nelson Mandela Muhoozi

In his Labour Day speech in May 2021, the President said an auxiliary cocoa industry could be developed, with the potential to earn Uganda an extra $100b.

This potential is further highlighted by the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) in its 2016 report, highlighting the need to invest further in the cocoa industry to sustain export demand.

According to the report, ICAM Uganda Ltd, a cocoa exporter, was for instance meant to export 5,000 tonnes of cocoa beans to its parent plant in Italy annually, but could only afford 2,000 tonnes.

This highlighted the need to increase cocoa production in Uganda by offering start-up support for cocoa seedlings, research into better varieties and popularizing its benefits that range from health to income from exports among others.

As early as the 16th-century publications about the medicinal benefits of cocoa were already present. Cocoa was used for treating fever and dysentery, improving heart, kidney and liver strength and generally improving longevity.

As a matter of fact, more farmland has been dedicated over the years to growing standard-compliant crops such as cocoa.

Previously, the Cocoa sector in Uganda did not have a policy to oversee and promote it. As a consequence, coordination of cocoa production and the required regulatory activities and monitoring of the entire chain remained weak.

However, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) with support from partners such as the European Union (EU), is implementing the EU – East African Community (EAC) Market Access Upgrade Programme (EUEAC MARKUP) financed under the eleventh European Development Fund (EDF) for Coffee and Cocoa Value chain development in Uganda.

Additionally, a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been undertaken to inform the best way to regulate the cocoa subsector.

This has led to the production of a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) report to inform on the best options for a regulated and sustainable national cocoa development programme which will ensure that the sub-sector is developed to its full potential.

The RIA report was produced, endorsed by the UCDA technical board in June 2020 and forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF) Top Policy Management (TPM).

It was later approved in February 2021, paving the way for use in the subsequent processes required to formulate a legal framework for the Ugandan cocoa sector.

Perhaps chocolate is more in the ears of people than the plant from which it comes. If many get to know this, we will not have to convince many Ugandans about the benefits of growing cocoa either as a cash crop or for personal consumption.

Cocoa is one of the ‘big four’ cash crops, teamed alongside cotton, oil palm and coffee, and is currently the fourth top foreign exchange earner for Uganda after coffee, fish and tea. The crop fetches $70 million annually.

Challenges the cocoa sector faces

Exported cocoa grew in value from $35.382m in 2010 to $59.742m in 2014, according to UIA.

However, the cocoa sector faces the challenge of high costs of transporting unprocessed cocoa beans, according to the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries.

As a country, MAAIF holds that we should be exporting semi-processed products such as cocoa powder and butter to target the double price on the global market because cocoa powder and butter are on high demand.

According to MAAIF, land area for cocoa growth reduced in 2017-2018, marked by a reduction in forestry certification.

The ministry said increased production and productivity of cocoa in Uganda will be enhanced through strengthening cocoa research and technology development, improving cocoa extension service delivery, provision of cocoa seedlings, and increased marketing and value addition.

To achieve this, the Government would have to part with shs40.48 billion.

Through the National Agricultural Advisory Development Services (NAADS), the Government has been supporting the cocoa development programme by availing planting materials to farmers as well as access to post-harvest handling facilities.

Reports indicate that since 2013/14, NAADS has distributed over 20 million cocoa seedlings, contributing to the increased production of cocoa by 9%.

In Uganda, cocoa is grown in a number of districts where the conditions are suitable for cultivation, mainly in the central, western, southeastern and southwestern regions. Coffee is also grown in some parts of the eastern region, mainly in Busoga.

In the past decade, the Government of Uganda through MAAIF has been running a campaign to popularize cocoa as a cash crop. 

The price of the crop has since shot to $2a kilogramme on the local market, according to cocoa price indices. Most of the cocoa beans produced in Uganda are exported in raw form to European countries.

According to the indices, farm-gate prices of fresh cocoa beans range from Sh2,000 to Sh2,500 while that of dry beans is at Sh6,000, depending on location and quality.

Cocoa is a perennial crop that responds well in rainy tropical areas, with a maximum annual average of 30 – 32ºC. It thrives under shades and in areas with annual rainfall between 1,500mm to 2,000mm.

The climatic change in Uganda is a bit of a challenge to the farmers in the country as it causes immature growth of the cocoa pods, leading to losses on the farm.

The sector is also faced with pests and diseases that attack the cocoa, causing poor yields, and lack of knowledge about market availability.

The National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), in Kituuza, Mukono, under Naro, has vast Cocoa disease-resistant varieties produced via biotechnology to enable farmers to get high yields, and is pushing for the planting of hybrid cocoa varieties which mature faster and are resistant to pests and diseases.

According to Dr Patrick Wetala of NaCRRI, organic cocoa is grown mostly in Bundibugyo, Mukono, Jinja, Kamuli, Buikwe, Masindi, Mayuge, Iganga and Kayunga districts on a small scale. 

It is estimated that only about 15,000 farmers are involved with cocoa in Uganda. The target is to increase the number of farmers cultivating cocoa.

Records at NaCRRI indicate that Uganda has about 21,000 hectares of land under cocoa cultivation, of which 6,054 have mature productive cocoa plantations and over 11,790 ha are covered by young cocoa plants.

Top export destinations of Ugandan cocoa and its products in 2020 included South Sudan (32 per cent), Democratic Republic of Congo (27 per cent) and Germany (25 per cent). 

Burundi and Kenya followed at 8.51 per cent and 4.74 per cent respectively.

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