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Brazil

The Collapse of Cocoa Production in Bahía – Brazil in the 1990s

by Joachim Milz

Originally cocoa is from the Amazon Rainforest and Central American primeval forest, which is generally located in the lower stratus of the rainforest, covered by fruit and timber trees. According to FAOSTAT (accessed March 2010), the world cocoa production area increased from 4.4 million ha up to 8.3 million ha between 1970 and 2007. In this timeframe, the five main producing countries in terms of cocoa surfaces changed from Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Ivory Coast and Cameroon (in decreasing order) to Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Brazil.

Figure 1. Development of cocoa production of Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia from 1961 to 2009 (FAOSTAT 2011).

Brazil participated with nearly 20% of the overall world cocoa production until the 1980ss , 85% (600.000 ha) of the cocoa area was located in the southern part of the Estate of Bahía. While the fungus of the Witches´ Broom disease was already endemic in the Estates of Rondonia, Amazonas and Pará, the Estate of Bahía was still free of Witches´Broom infections until 1989. A quarantine belt around Bahía and Espirito Santo had been established to avoid the introduction of infected plant material from the Amazon region. The control measures were concentrated around the airports, while at that time road links to the Amazon region did not yet exist.

Infections by wind to a distance of more than 2000 km through semi- arid regions were considered as extreme unlikely (ROCHA, MIRANDA, SGRILLO & SETUBAL 1993).

The first infections of Witches´Broom in Bahía were discovered in late 1989 . Already 60 days after the first control measures, new infection foci were detected in the neighborhoods.

All plantations with symptoms of Witches´Broom were destroyed and burnt immediately including a quarantine belt of 350m surrounding the infected plantation. That was equivalent to an area of a minimum 100 hectares of cocoa plantation being destroyed in each case. The adopted measures were coordinated by the research Center CEPLAC.

In spite of all the efforts undertaken, the disease spread out over the whole region at a rapid pace. Realizing the failing of the adopted measures burning of infected plantations were stopped by the responsible agency later on. Until mid 1991 already 941 plantations were infected, corresponding to an area of more than 50.000 hectares (ROCHA, MIRANDA, SGRILLO & SETUBAL [1993]; PEREIRA, L.C.C. DE ALMEIDA AND S.M. SANTOS [1996]).

The traditional cocoa production system of Bahía was the so called “cabruca”, where cocoa trees had been planted in between thinned secondary forest. About 65% of the all cocoa plantations were cultivated in this kind of system. The most affected plantations were only old “cabruca” systems in the region of Camacão. The combination of Witches´ Broom disease with different factors like extensive and insufficient agronomic management, production in large estates, halving of the world market price for cocoa beans and the duplication of labour costs at the same time caused the collapse of cocoa production in the estate of Bahía. According to estimations of the cocoa institution CEPLAC 30.000 ha of cocoa plantations had been uprooted between 1992 and 1996 (ALGER 2003).

The estate owners were recommended to maintain only plantations with the best soil properties and to reduce the overall production surface. The technical standard package recommended by the research center CEPLAC included the use of tolerant plant material, high tree densities, reducing the height of cocoa trees, establishing shade trees in low densities, regular pruning and removing of all infected parts of the trees and use of mineral fertilizer. Not- maintained plantations should be uprooted and cultivated with alternative crops like Bactris gassipaes for palm heart production (CEPLAC, 1997).

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