Rome — Twenty farming communities on the island of Sao Tome cultivate organic cocoa exclusively for the export market. Their buyer is the French company KAOKA with whom they have signed a five-year contract in 2005 through the Cooperative for Export and Market of Organic Cocoa (CECAB). This experience has been incorporated into the Participatory Smallholder Agriculture and Artisanal Fisheries Development Programme (PAPAFPA).
Some 1,100 producers, of whom 42 per cent are women, are involved in the production of organic cocoa there. So far they are happy with the results as their revenues have been rising. Their challenge, though, is to increase their modest production. Since the operation started, the Sao Tome farmers have sold an average of 150 tons of dried beans per year to KAOKA. It is below the 400 tons expected by the French company a level that would also allow the CECAB to make a profit.
To rise to the challenge before the end of the contract, farmers need to sort out irrigation problems and plant more cocoa trees to increase their density per hectare. They also have to fight diseases attacking the trees and pests destroying the harvest, and do so in an environmentally friendly way that will allow them to keep the certification to international organic standards. Some techniques have already been tested with positive results. Farmers are using lime sulphate to prevent diseases from developing. Insects known locally as robocintos, usually drawn to warm leaves, can be kept away by planting large trees to create enough shade to keep a cooler environment in the cocoa plantations.
Rodents continue to be a problem. Restricted to the use of non-chemical products, cocoa farmers have tried various techniques to get rid of them. But successive anti-rodent recipes, based on cement, grated maize or banana mixed with pieces of broken glass, have all failed. André Deberdt, CEO of KAOKA, suggested to the Sao Tome farmers that they try a traditional technique, already proven in Latin America, called sugar bread: a mixture of sugar and baking yeast that is deadly when eaten by the rodents. Small bags are prepared and suspended in the cocoa trees, between the leaves. To have any impact, the technique has to be implemented by all the farmers within a community and the bags set in all the parcels at the same time. The experiment in Sao Tome has already had some positive results. Farmers are able to increase their production, while preserving the precious organic certification of their cocoa.