Brazil is currently the sixth largest cocoa producer in the world, with a production of 220 thousand tons per year. But while this number is very positive in a global production scenario, cocoa trees in the Northeast suffer from an invasive pest – ‘witches’ broom’ – which can reach plant branches, cause leaf spots and even warp fruits.
The family of businesswoman Josiane Luz has long been involved in cocoa production in the interior of Bahia. Fruit cultivation is the main income for the home and property, with cocoa being produced, sold, and processed. But with the “broom”, the family found no solution but to eliminate infected plants that were not as productive as before, and invest in livestock.
The manner of managing the fields prevailed until the care of his 62-year-old father, Joao Santana Filho. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020, was an opportunity that Josine found to invest in her own business with SEO João as a partner. The opening of a chocolate shop in São Paulo (SP) was the incentive the father needed to return to invest in cocoa.
“My dad is no longer fascinated with cocoa. And I invested in chocolate anyway. Today we have a chocolate shop and he no longer makes traditional cocoa, as he did, in the days of my grandfather Joao Santana. We produce premium cocoa, taking advantage of the beans to produce our chocolate. [seo João] I started growing cocoa two years ago, because we have a production line of diverse and wonderful cocoa,” Josian said.
And the work is working. “Today I make chocolate in São Paulo using my father’s cocoa from Bahia. He mentioned that we only had about 8% to 10% of the cocoa plants we had there in 2000 when my grandfather was “impressed by the property.”
To control pests and never uproot cocoa trees again, they adopted organic fertilizing. “We use the cocoa plant itself as a fertilizer and a constant pruning, even though our planting today is small. [período] He revealed that the cacao tree is prepared after harvest with pruning to control the pest, so that the tree is healthy in the next harvest.”
And so the family bet on the production of organic cocoa. “The advice we give producers is specifically to invest in processing the fruit, and to convert the farm into an organic environment for sale [amendoas] To chocolatiers who produce their own high-quality chocolate. This is only possible through good management of the cacao tree to produce good cocoa,” he instructs.
According to Josian, her father was unaware of the MAPA (Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply) project encouraging testing with new, more effective and less invasive fungicides for cocoa production. It was the municipality of Igwe who revealed to Siu Joao some new farming techniques. “We have a lot of expectations about control, even if my father’s production remains small compared to other producers in the Northeast, and he has difficulties with communication and access to technologies and studies,” he asserts.
The businesswoman also reported the need for information from the Mapa tests to reach cocoa farmers in Bahia – most of whom work alone, with empirical knowledge passed down from father to son. “There is a lot more to discover and more communication is also needed so that the information reaches the cocoa growers. At the moment we are working on a parallel scenario, on our own, using the Internet a lot to figure out how to counteract the ‘broom’.
At the end of last year, a technical cooperation agreement was signed between Ceplac (Executive Committee of the Cocoa Crop Plan), associated with Mapa, and Senar in Bahia, which resulted in tests of the new fungicides. Tests began in April of this year and are in their initial phase, with the first applications and data collected.
According to Ceplac’s General Coordinator for Research and Innovation, Lucimara Chiari, the studies will take two years in Bahia, the state hardest hit by the plague. “The effects of the broom in the region were devastating in 2021, causing a 75% drop in production in the state,” he said.
Lossimara emphasized that the production loss “depends to a large extent on the reproduction (grafting of seedlings) used and on the phytosanitary management performed by the producer.” The coordinator directs the producers to follow the technical recommendations of the research conducted by Ceplac. “Currently, witches’ broom control recommendations include rational use of fungicides, removal of infected tissue, use of more plague-resistant clones and biological control,” he advises.