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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory » Research » Research Project #427103

Research Project: Development of Sustainable Cacao Production Methods in Costa Rica

Location: Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-21000-281-04-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 1, 2014
End Date: Aug 1, 2019

The objective of this project is the development of a standardized rejuvenation model for old growth cacao plantations that provide sustainable production of cacao. This integrated approach combines the best knowledge and practices gained from twenty years of cacao research into one system. The concept involves best cultural practices, integrated pest management and genetic improvement of the cacao trees.

To develop an integrated system for rejuvenating old growth cacao farms, experiments will be conducted to evaluate a management system that incorporates three main components: best cultural practices, integrated pest management, and genetic improvement. The cultural practices implemented will be pruning and shaping of trees, fertilization/liming, weed control, irrigation, tree density, and shade trees. Pruning and shaping of trees: Research has developed a method of heavy pruning and shaping of old growth cacao during the first year followed by lighter pruning in subsequent years. This drastic coppice pruning results in severally diminished yields during the first few years but dramatically reduces the height of the tree. Fertilization/liming: Trees will be fertilized every other year beginning the year after they have undergone a rejuvenation pruning depending upon soil analysis. High production trees in treatments not undergoing coppice regeneration but under cultural practices will be fertilized every other year. Tree density: Tree density can vary between 800 and 1500 trees per hectare. In some farms the tree density may be so low that it may be necessary to plant seedlings to achieve the desired density of 900 trees per hectare. Integrated pest management consists of two components: decrease of disease pressure and protection of the pods and flower cushions. There are two main diseases: frosty pod rot (Moniliophthora roreri) and black pod (Phytophthora palmivora). A common control strategy will be used 1) opening up the canopy to increase sunlight and air movement to reduce surface moisture; 2) removal of diseased pods; 3) application of copper fungicides to the pod surface; and 4) application of biocontrol agents to decrease disease pressure and increase pod set. Integration of farmer field school practices and cacao cooperatives that directly involve farmers in the process will be instituted to greatly increase the chances of making progress toward the cacao sustainability paradigm.