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Cocoa and fertilizers in West-Africa

Fertilizer use on degraded farms with mature trees has shown a clear positive impact on the productivity of cocoa. This is the main conclusion from this pilot study on the impact of fertilizer, based on Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

The author argues that:

  • use of fertilizer has a clear impact on production, but its effect can vary considerably. This variability is partially explained by the amount of rainfall and the degree of maintenance, but there is still a need for solid research
  • in order to overcome the risks related to variability, the price ratio ‘1 kg of cocoa: 1 kg of fertilizer’ should change to at least 3 kg, preferably 4 kg of cocoa against that same amount of fertilizer
  • the impact on production is accompanied by significant impacts on quality – and to a lesser extent on labor productivity. Is the market ready to recognize this quality improvement?
  • however, if we follow this model, global needs would be immense. Would fertilizer suppliers be ready to meet such a demand? A reasonable conclusion seems to encourage some organic fertilizer associated with mineral fertilizer, such as chicken manure, as currently adopted by ~3% of the cocoa farmers in both countries

For both countries, the report recommends:

  • calcium nitrate, due to its remarkable impact on cocoa tree health, should be considered specific. Its promotion and subsidy should be maintained in Ghana and set up in Côte d’Ivoire, with a competitive distribution
  • Successful replanting is still more important than increasing yields of mature or old farms: priority could be also given to the subsidy of fertilizer adapted to replanting

All these fertilizer policies could help Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to replicate the success story experienced by cocoa farmers in Nzema district, where traders currently converge to sell new cars and trucks to smallholders.