Bringing back cocoa in Southern Bahia, Brazil

Cargill participates in efforts to increase cocoa production; project shows positive early results


Learn how Cargill connects their expertise in growing cocoa and developing responsible supply chains to helping farmers increase cocoa yields by controlling witches broom fungus in a small project based in Southern Bahia, Brazil. 


April 2011 – In an area hard-hit with decreased cocoa yields caused by the witches broom fungus, Cargill is participating in efforts to increase cocoa production.

Witches broom (vassoura-de-bruxa in Portuguese), a fungal disease that affected the cocoa trees in Southern Bahia, resulted in the country turning from a cocoa bean exporter to a cocoa bean importer. Cocoa is a cash crop in some of the poorer areas of the country and incomes of smaller farmers were negatively impacted due to the decreased yields caused by the witches broom fungus. 

In an effort to bring back the cocoa, Cargill led the formation of a local organization – Industry Association of Cocoa Processers (AIPC). AIPC works with a number of small cocoa suppliers in using technology and improving farming practices.

The effort is called project Phoenix, and is sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture of Holland (through its Buffer Stock Fund), Cargill, and four other members of AIPC.

Choosing cocoa farms for the program

Each association member chose five of their cocoa suppliers – for a total of 25 farmers – in the Southern Bahia State region, in Brazil. Each participant farmers pays 15 percent of the cost of the program. 

Laertes Moraes, Director of Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate, Brazil, said, “The selected suppliers are traditional producers with old farms and poor cocoa production yield. Overgrown and often fallow sections of their farms were used for the program. The program is deployed on 5 hectares of each farm.”

Deploying technologies and improved farming practices
Bringing back cocoa in Southern Bahia, Brazil.
As well as tried and true methods, cocoa plants are grafted with witches broom-resistant clones, improving the cocoa plant’s ability to stave off fungus.

The program consists of tried and true technologies, improved farming practices and grafting.

  • Clearing and trimming trees to allow sun to reach the cocoa plants
  • Using fertilizer on the cocoa plants
  • Increasing the number of cocoa plants grown per hectare
Early results of increased cocoa yields

Early results of the program are positive:

  • The first group of ten farms achieved 180 percent increase of cocoa yields in the first two years of the program: from 170 to 480 Kg/ha
  • The second group of 15 farms increased 150 percent in the first year, with current production of 430 Kg/ha
  • Positive early results for grafting of cocoa plants

Due to the time needed to evaluate full grafting results, the program will take eight years before a full evaluation is done.

Cocoa farms – then and now

The farms are different now. Before the program, the 5-hectare areas looked abandoned, with many trees and little light. 

Moraes notes, “The areas are now clean and light. The cocoa plants have good pod loads and are healthy. Cocoa plants were added, bringing back the richness of the cocoa farms.”

Looking to the future of cocoa in Southern Bahia, Brazil

The association’s work with the small group of farmers has provided much needed technologies and improved farming practices. 

Moraes said, “This program is showing the results of progressive methods in technologies and improved farming practices. To continue to increase cocoa yields, these methods must be put in place long-term and on a larger scale.”