Growing Cocoa as an intercrop increases yield and farmer profitability

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New Delhi | Updated: Aug 22, 2016 7:40 PM

With improved technology and higher yields, the cross cultivation between coconut, arecanut and other palms has resulted in an increased profitability of the program as well as the farmers

With the improved technology and higher yields, the cross cultivation between coconut, arecanut and other palms has resulted in an increased profitability of the program as well as the farmersWith the improved technology and higher yields, the cross cultivation between coconut, arecanut and other palms has resulted in an increased profitability of the program as well as the farmers

Marking the beginning of a sustained initiative to empower cocoa farming communities in South India, Mondelez India, through its Cocoa Life program, managed to train 5,000 farmers every year to grow Cocoa as an intercrop.

The company has partnered with agricultural universities like Kerala Agricultural University and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University in Tamil Nadu and Kerala for research and training on improving cocoa yields and equipping the farmers with technical help by setting up buy-back systems. With the improved technology and higher yields, the cross cultivation between coconut, arecanut and other palms has resulted in an increased profitability of the program as well as the farmers.

One of the motives behind the Cocoa Life Program is a well maintained cocoa intercrop farm that ensures doubled farmer’s income and better agronomic practices.

The program has enrolled around 796 women farmers between 2013-15 across southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Here are the excerpts from an interview of KP Magudapathy, Senior Manager, Cocoa Operations, Mondelez India:

What are the agricultural institutes that Mondelez India has collaborated with?

Research has been an integral part of the Cocoa Life program. Mondelez India has partnered with Kerala Agricultural University and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University to conduct specialized research on improving yields of Cocoa, develop superior varieties of the crop among other farmer-centric activities in the region. This has enabled us to strengthen our local knowledge and train farmers on various aspects of cocoa cultivation. Growing cocoa as an intercrop with coconut, areca nut, oil palm and also as a mixed crop has helped farmers maximize their yields and increase profitability.

How much has the profitability of the program increased since the initiation of the Cocoa Life program? How much has the profitability increased for the farmer by growing cocoa as an intercrop?

There are multi-fold benefits of growing cocoa as an intercrop. A well maintained cocoa intercrop farm, gives more than double the income to the farmer from the existing land; if he adopts the recommended/ best agronomic practices for cultivation. Cocoa cultivation enriches farming land with organic matter and improves soil’s micro-climate, thereby enhancing productivity of existing main crops like Coconut, Areca nut and Oil palm. In the past 50 years, the Cocoa Life program has enhanced livelihood of 1,00,000 farmers; helping them understand and subsequently adopt the art of cocoa farming across four states in south India – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Cocoa being a women-friendly crop, what initiatives have been taken by Mondelez India to support women growing cocoa as an intercrop in their backyards?

Cocoa is a ‘women friendly’ crop as it does not involve heavy physical labour. The post-harvest operations which are very critical to the crop can also be managed independently by women. A large number of women farmers work on their family farms on a daily basis. With many male farmers foraying into non-farming professions, the number of women in this sector is consistently increasing.

Around 1000 women farmers and farm workers across the four southern states have benefited from the training sessions conducted so far. These sessions which involve a good balance of theory and practice; have helped women get a better understanding of the crop cultivation practices and has improved their skills. They are also provided training on First Aid, Safety, Health and Nutrition. Post these trainings, women farmers have shared a feeling of greater confidence in taking farming decisions and have gained through better farm returns. Women farm workers who have undergone the training are slowly beginning to be recognized by Cocoa growing farmers as workers with skills in a crop that is still considerably new to the region; and are therefore getting preference while seeking employment. This is an ongoing program which proposes to draw in more and more women farmers and farm workers over the years.

How much does a farmer involved in the Cocoa Life program earn in a month? Do they get any health benefits or protection from the company?

A well maintained cocoa intercrop farm doubles the income for the farmer if he/she adopts the recommended/ best agronomic practices for cultivation. The objective of Cocoa Life program in India is to create thriving cocoa growing communities. We are involved in supporting cocoa research at agriculture universities in India, communicating the benefits of growing cocoa to farmers, educating the farmers on good agricultural practices on cocoa cultivation, and giving support on post-harvest operations. This initiative has benefitted 1400 students so far. Additionally, our Sports for Development program which is rolled out in the tribal schools of Adimali in Kerala, has benefitted more than 1000 students. We are focusing on women and marginalized communities who are involved in cocoa cultivation. 69 tribal hamlets covering over 2000 tribal farmers were trained on cocoa cultivation practices, seedlings and agriculture implements so that they are able to realize additional benefits from farming.

Does the program also focus on soil nutrient management as harvesting can lead to loss of soil nutrients?

The training module under Cocoa Life program in India focuses on GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and it advocates sustainable agricultural operations without harming the environment. We also encourage farmers to use organic inputs like vermi-compost which improves the quality of the soil, thereby reducing the use of chemical fertilizers. Cocoa is profusely a leaf-shedding crop which enriches organic matter of the soil. This enhances microbial activity and nutrient level in the soil, thereby improving productivity. Perennial crops like Cocoa act as ‘natural sponge’ for absorbing Carbon dioxide from atmosphere and helps in carbon sequestration.

Does the program extend to other countries beyond India?

The Cocoa Life program reflects the importance of cocoa as a critical raw material and builds on our years of successful cocoa programs in origin countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Brazil; to develop a sustainable cocoa supply.

Does Mondelez India supply seeds and fertilisers to farmers?

Over the years, cultivating cocoa has made several farmers financially independent and helped transform their livelihoods. The technical team provides support to farmers by giving them access to quality planting material and educating them on good cultivation practices through various training programs.

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