Have you ever thought about what it takes to produce your favorite fairafric chocolate bar? In our opinion, it is worth giving it a though because the way from a cocoa tree’s blossom to the chocolate bar itself is a quite surprising journey with unexpected helpers!
The cocoa tree – just a tree?
The cocoa’s origin is the cocoa tree – that’s common knowledge. But this tree isn’t just an ordinary tree! On the contrary, it is an extraordinary plant with many botanic specifics: The cocoa tree is actually a very high tree (up to 20 meters), but on cocoa plantations the tree is cut back to just four meters in order to easier reach the beans. The beans grow directly on the trunk and not on big branches like normal fruits do – this phenomenon is called cauliflory. Also, the tree’s location has to be a very special one: It loves growing completely in the shadow. Hence, the farmers plant high palm trees next to their cocoa trees. Those shady trees ensure perfect conditions for the growth of the cocoa plants and are therefore called Madres de cacao (cocoa’s mother). This interaction between trees is also advantageous for the farmers. There is not only a healthy biodiversity on the plantations but also an extra income through the selling of the fruits growing on the different palms, like plantains, coconuts and many more.
Flowers and bees – and midges!?
But wait, there is more! A cocoa tree blooms throughout the whole year with thousands and thousands of blossoms. The blossoms are not pollinated by bees, like it is known from ordinary fruit trees, but from really tiny midges. These shadow-loving animals can be barely seen with the naked eye and don’t work really effective: Only 4% of the cocoa blossoms are fertilized by them. This is why nowadays cocoa blossoms all over the world are fertilized manually. Therefore, we have so called “Extension Officers“ on our plantations. The farmers of the Yayra Glover action group get workshops from those “Extension Officers“. They travel from village to village and increase the quality and income of the farmers by learning them the best way to fertilize cocoa blossoms. This is how we realize a high return from our cocoa trees.
Unfortunately, this is not enough: Even if the cocoa blossoms’ fertilization was successfully, it doesn’t mean we get a cocoa bean. More than half of the cocoa fruits don’t mature and die off. There are various reasons for this like drought, humidity, fungal attacks, insects, the wrong light and so on. That is why the tree blooms throughout the whole year and bears fruit simultaneously. A tree which can bloom and bear fruit at the same time is by the way a botanical rarity.
At the end bees also have a share in our chocolate – and in organic farming
Organic farming has many advantages. Not only the nature, but also people benefit from this kind of agriculture. For example, the renunciation from pure plantations means advantages not only for other plants, but also for lots of beneficial insects. Besides that, we are sure you have also heard from climate protection through organic farming, from the complete resignation of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers for a better soil and from consumers- and species protection. However, for our plantations in Ghana organic farming means even more. We don’t use chemicals – neither on the plantations nor in the cocoa-warehouses. This decision has far-reaching consequences. The acid primary used on cocoa plantations, aluminum phosphate, is especially for bees a very dangerous neonicotinoid. Also, for many other beneficial insects this chemical is fatal and therefore affects the fertilization on the surrounding plantations. Furthermore, the conscious renunciation of those chemicals makes sure that the groundwater stays clean and that the farmers can raise bees in their plantations. The bees are not helping the cocoa trees but all the other plants growing in species-rich plantations and the farmers to increase their income. This is how bees have their share in our chocolate.
Small lexicon for cocoa (tree) friends:
– It takes about 2-3 years for the cocoa tree to bloom for the first time
– A cocoa tree’s blossom looks like an orchid
– An average of 100.000 blooms are needed for 50 ripe cocoa beans
– Cocoa trees only bear fruit between 20° north and 20° south latitude
– The sequence of the cacao genome Matina 1-6 is identified up to 90% and is available to anyone on a website (https://www.cacaogenomedb.org)
– Constant temperatures between 25°- 28° Celsius (77°-82,5°F) lead to a high-yield harvest
– It takes 5-6 months for a perfect riped cocoa bean
– The cocoa bean pulp can be blended for a very delicious drink.