Barry Callebaut’s Richard Fahey, Vice President for Cocoa in Asia, and Indonesia-based Sustainability Manager Ani Setiyoningrum, answer questions about our innovative seedling program in Indonesia.
Why do cocoa farmers need new trees?
Richard Fahey: Indonesia has been struggling to increase cocoa production because of ageing cocoa trees. Most of them were planted in the 1980s, are vulnerable to diseases and are well past their peak production years. Cocoa trees are strong, and will produce pods for a long time. However, the high-productive years of a cocoa tree are finite, and usually after 25 years, the trees are less productive. Indonesia desperately needs new trees in order to get back to a productivity level of around 1 mt of beans per hectare.
High-quality nurseries therefore are essential to provide the supply of seedlings the farmers need and give them the confidence that the seedlings they purchase will turn into high-yielding, disease resistant trees.
Ani Setiyoningrum: The purpose of cocoa nurseries is to provide a conducive environment in which young cocoa plants can grow a good number of leaves and fully develop its root system to a certain stage that will give cocoa plants a better chance of survival at the cocoa farm. These nurseries will require shade, water and protection from wind, and whenever necessary, protection from stray animals.
There are already cocoa nurseries in Indonesia? Why are we also doing this?
Richard: Plantations in Indonesia typically have 400-600 cocoa trees growing per hectare. Let’s do the math. If we are to estimate that there is 500,000 hectare of cocoa farms in Indonesia, we are basically looking at replacing at least 200 million trees. This nationwide replanting initiative is massive and would take a lot of effort not just from Barry Callebaut but across various organizations.
Once planted on the farm, these seedlings are more likely to survive and become healthy trees. We're expecting a 90 percent survival rate for our seedlings.
How did Barry Callebaut determine that investing in professional nurseries would be an efficient way to provide farmers with seedlings?
Ani: The scale of professional nurseries allows us to introduce specific planting materials, better structures, automatic irrigation, and a better monitoring program. This will secure the quality of the seedlings produced and we can introduce new ideas for improvements in a more efficient way. Once planted on the farm, these seedlings are more likely to survive and become healthy trees. We're expecting a 90 percent survival rate for our seedlings.
What else is new about the seedling program?
Richard: In Indonesia, we are piloting a new way of setting-up these nurseries and distributing these seedlings to the farmers. The challenge is how we can escalate the seedling propagation program while also try to reduce the production cost of each seedling. We have learned a lot from our colleagues in Brazil and we are borrowing some of their best practices, including using elevated tables and space efficient planting tubes. While setting up these improved nurseries and distribution networks, we continue to support farmers to establish nurseries in their own communities because it helps to increase the overall supply of new trees.
We have learned a lot from our colleagues in Brazil and we are borrowing some of their best practices, including using elevated tables and space efficient planting tubes.