Towards better production: Understanding the soil intricacies of cacao in Davao de Oro

Fruit-bearing cacao trees are intercropped with rubber trees in Maragusan, Davao de Oro. (Photo courtesy of Ruel Kenneth Felices)

By  Ruel Kenneth Felices

Cacao has been in the history of the Philippines for many years. But it is only recently that the country has reawakened as a potential source for high-quality cacao. The cacao industry in the Philippines is now having its moment in the limelight but faced with the increasing pressure to supply the world market the sector is dealing with complex economic, social, and environmental issues.

Foremost of the concerns that confront the cacao industry is the need to increase yield to meet the global demand. Philippine cocoa production is less than 0.1% of the global production and shares with Thailand and Vietnam the 1% out of the 13% production of Asia. To avoid the impending deficit, it is of great importance to provide appropriate science and technology interventions to increase the production of our cacao industry in the Philippines.

To achieve better production, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the factors affecting cacao growth and yield and to apply the necessary management practices required by the cacao plant.

An essential ingredient in most cacao growing situations is the right type and amount of fertilizer input, but most of the areas planted with cacao have varying types of soil and must be managed differently depending on their fertility. Therefore, it is important to assess and understand the different soil properties and nutrient status of productive cacao areas.

A study conducted by Nelvin A. Villason and Dernie T. Olguera of the University of Southeastern Philippines investigated the soil properties and nutrient status of eight cacao farms in Davao de Oro to obtain baseline data as a basis for management. Davao de Oro is identified as the pilot area for the study since there are a lot of banana farms converted to cacao land-use system. And as the province is geared towards sustainable cacao production, the study will provide details to strengthen the foundation of healthy and profitable cacao production.

The result of the study showed that the soil under the cacao production system in Davao de Oro is characterized by shallow to very deep solum: dark brown in the upper horizons and dark, yellowish-brown in the lower horizons. The soil additionally has the following characteristics: for soil consistency, friable to very firm when moist; slightly sticky to very sticky; slight to very high plasticity; and silty clay loam to loam soil texture. Further, the soils under the production system generally had moderately acidic to slightly acidic pH, low organic matter content (except in orchards applied with organic fertilizer), an adequate amount of nitrogen, low phosphorus content, and low potassium content (in some areas).

With this, appropriate fertilization based on site-specific recommendations and proper cultural management is needed. To alleviate constraints, improving nutrient status, minimizing soil degradation, and appropriate soil fertility management strategies should be employed.

With the opportunity of cacao for export in the chocolate industry, the Davao Region has seen this as a flourishing opportunity. As there is a growing number of cacao farmers in Davao de Oro, they need to know the nature and properties of the soil. “These properties (physical and chemical properties) need to be understood by farmers or any individuals indulged in crop production activities. Physical properties of the soil will dictate the manner in how the soil will be tilled or plowed for irrigation and the timing and placement of the fertilizers. Chemical properties, on the other hand, will answer the question of what and how much fertilizers need to be added,” according to Mr. Villason.

Results taken from the study are deemed useful for sustainable cacao production and nutrient management of cacao production areas in Davao De Oro, Philippines.

This article was first published in the Southeastern Philippines Journal of Research and Development.

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