There is black gold (oil) in Hoima, lying under the crests and rift valleys of the district. And to any Ugandan, this is seen as the ‘magic wand’ that will help turn around the fortunes of the district and Bunyoro in general. But now, there is also cocoa, the brown seed, got off trees that is ‘threatening’ to battle oil for pride.
Hoima district have intensified efforts aimed at improving the quality and quantity of cocoa production because of a niche market for it. And now, a modern fermentation unit has been set up, to add value to the crop.
Dr Charles Kajura, the Hoima district production officer, says cocoa farmers in Hoima are reaping big due to improved prices. A kilogramme of dried cocoa now costs sh8,400 up from 3,000 or 2,500 five years ago.
The price has steadily been increasing from sh6,000, sh7,000 at the beginning of 2015 and now it is at sh8,400.
Kajura notes that now Hoima has singled out cocoa as the most paying perennial crop and decided to sensitise farmers on how to grow it.
Without revealing statistics, he says they have been distributing cocoa seedlings to farmers through Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) programme.
“The prices of cocoa are enticing people into growing the perennial crop that was neglected years ago over poor prices. The constraints to farmers like access to the markets and extension services have been addressed,” he explains.
Kajura says now at least there is an extension work at each sub-county to offer technical advice on how to grow it. The district recently recruited new extension workers through the agriculture ministry.
Cocoa value addition
Kajura was speaking recently at the commissioning of the first cocoa fermentation and drying facility in Kitoba sub-county in Hoima district.
“We have put emphasis on it and pledged total support to grow more because of the ready market and since farmers are getting 85% of global prices here,” he said.
The facility launched was constructed by partners including Swisscontact, a development organisation, ICAM Chocolate, a private business and cocoa farmer organizations in Hoima. Previously, cocoa farmers dried the seeds on the floor, hence affecting quality.
“Production is going to improve and similar facilities will be duplicated here. We have distributed a lot of cocoa and we envisage that in 3 years to come production will surpass the current one,” Kajura said.
Hoima district records show that sh300m has been earned from cocoa sales between September 2015 and June 2016. He said they are to develop a strategy for cocoa which strategy the private sector can implement in areas that have been contained in it.
Facility to attract youth
Capt. Benjamin Mugonzangane, the co-ordinator for OWC, Buhaguzi county in Hoima, observed that the challenge for cocoa is that most farmers are all elderly, adding that the youth should be motivated by the government’s interventions such as free distribution of early maturing and high-yielding cocoa seedlings and other inputs to venture into the crop’s cultivation.
“Money knows no age, so the youth should stop looking at cocoa as the ‘old’ man’s crop,” he said.
Mugonzangane added: “We shall teach them how it is grown and they also teach their parents and give them seedlings.”
Modernising the cocoa business, with facilities like this can certainly attract the young population. The facility is expected to improve on the quality of fermented cocoa beans to meet international quality standards.
This will enable farmers, access better prices and reliable market. The farmers can sell fresh cocoa beans if they want and the company-ICAM does the drying.
The cocoa fermentation and drying centre is worth sh54m, and with a capacity to dry 29 tonnes per week, it will benefit more than 1,200 farmers in the district. There is a similar processing plant in Bundibugyo.
“The objective of establishing the cocoa processing unit is to improve on the quality of fermented cocoa beans to meet international quality standards. This will enable farmers, access better prices and reliable market. More than 1,200 farmers will have access to the fermentation and drying facility with capacity to dry 29 tons per week,” Tania Haidara, the Swisscontact country director said. Farmers will access the centre through their associations.
Amongother products, cocoa is widely used as a base for making chocolate bars, in ice-cream, as an instant drink.
How to grow cocoa
The ideal range of temperatures for cocoa is minimums of 18-21°C and maximums of 30-32°C. High temperatures may affect bean characteristics and yield.
The distribution of annual rainfall for regions in which cocoa is grown is 1250-3000 mm per year. The rainfall must be well distributed and any dry period should be no longer than three months.
Cocoa is grown on a wide range of soil types, but soils with moderate to high fertility are favoured since fertiliser inputs under traditional production systems are low. The main requirements are:
- 1.5 m depth of free draining soil
- good moisture holding capacity
- pH range from 4.5 to 7.0, preferably close to 6.5.
Attempts to establish cocoa without shade often fail and one of the main causes is wind damage. Cocoa prefers calm conditions and persistent moderate wind can cause problems during establishment.
Seedlings are generally used for planting. They are raised in nurseries where shade, wind protection, nutrition and irrigation are provided. Seed is collected from ripe pods and, if the fresh beans are planted immediately, at least 90% should germinate within two weeks.
Density may range from 800-3000 trees/ha with about 1200 trees/ha. About 200kg N, 25kg phosphorus, 300kg potassium and 140kg calcium are needed per hectare to grow the trees prior to pod production.
Trees start producing fruits after 4-5 years and will continue doing so for over 40 years.