How to increase cocoa yield

Managed properly and intensively, cocoa can be a profitable crop.

Balanced fertilization in particular, has a major impact on cocoa yield and brings benefits to the grower. Appropriate fertilizer use is a major contributor to maintaining tree vigor and productivity, and increasing yields. Indeed, the use of balanced fertilizer programs can more than double the yield of cocoa.

Good, well-drained soils are essential for strong root development and good seedling establishment. Maintenance of an optimum soil pH also ensures that nutrients are readily available, maximizing growth.

Crop nutrition

Nitrogen is important to support vegetative growth and secure high cocoa yields based on an optimum, productive canopy . It needs to be readily available, but not in excess, from flowering through pod-fill. The use of nitrate based fertilizers are the preferred source of nitrogen in mature trees, giving positive cocoa yield responses, while only having a slight effect on soil pH.

Phosphorus is particularly important for root development, flowering and pod number in cocoa plants. Applications up to 200kg/ha of P2O5, significantly above uptake levels, have provided positive yield responses in trials on low phosphorus index soils.
Potassium, like nitrogen, also boosts crop development, and large amounts are taken up. Supplies need to be balanced alongside those of nitrogen.

Calcium and magnesium help produce a good, well-structured tree canopy that supports high cocoa yields. 

Manganese is important for early growth and strong tree establishment. 

A good supply of zinc and magnesium ensures that cocoa can cope with high levels of sunlight. This also allows for maximizing the use of photosynthesis for growth and yield. 

Poor availability of any micronutrient will restrict cocoa plant growth – particularly productive leaf area – and reduce cocoa yield.

Other crop management practices

  • The return of composed pod husk or trash will serve as a mulch to conserve moisture as well as providing a source of nutrients. 
  • Early growth is encouraged by shade, but maximum cocoa yields come from crops that intercept more sunlight. Managing shade is important. 
  • Pruning and tree management also plays a major part in influencing cocoa yield. 
  • Maintenance of strong roots and strong growth through good pest and disease control, the use of shelters, and careful husbandry, ensures maximum cocoa productivity and fruit fill. 
  • While irrigation is only practiced across a limited number of production regions, it can help encourage flowering in dry seasons.