Saving Indonesia’s cocoa

Supporting farmers and improving crop sustainability are the focus of collaborative work to save Indonesia’s ailing cocoa bean yields.

Production of cocoa beans for chocolate making is big business in Indonesia, especially in Sulawesi—where from the 1970s to 1990s, production grew from almost nothing to around 1.5 million hectares of smallholder plantings, and the third-largest production output in the world.

This ‘cocoa boom’ is now threatened by pests and diseases, aging trees, declining soil fertility and poor farm maintenance, which have contributed to a decline in production over the last decade. There is a serious drive in Indonesia to improve the yield per hectare on existing farms, particularly without the need to expand into forested areas.

This drive has included a two million dollar Australian Government project aimed at improving crop sustainability by testing and promoting better cocoa varieties, maintaining soil fertility, and new farming techniques and pest and disease management.

The work, which ran from 2011 to 2016, was led by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology, Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute, Universitas Hasanuddin, La Trobe University, and The University of Sydney.

Chocolate company Mars Inc. was also a key contributor, and are continuing the project in Sulawesi. Initial reviews suggest that the farmers in the study have increased their cocoa yield—results which have spread beyond those directly involved.

Credit for banner image: Philip Keane.