Cocoa is ranked the 4th foreign exchange earner for Uganda, after coffee, fish and tea. Cocoa beans production in Uganda has increased from 190 tonnes in 1972 to 40,000 tonnes in 2021.
Studies have shown that cocoa can be a catalyst for Uganda’s socio-economic transformation. But this potential is challenged by many factors, including lack of affordable and user-friendly post-harvest handling practices, among others, which result in poor cocoa quality.
The National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) has got a grant to train cocoa farmers on post-harvest handling. The sh380m three-year project under NARO’s Competitive Grant Scheme (CGS) is aimed at increasing cocoa productivity and value addition.
The project titled: Enhancing Cocoa Productivity and Value-Addition for Improved Livelihood of Small-holder Cocoa Farming Communities in Uganda will be implemented by NaCORI and Rwebitaba Zonal Agriculture Research Development Institute (ZARDI). NaCORI will spearhead the development of cocoa fermentation innovations and value added products from cocoa pulp, which will be disseminated in the cocoa growing agro-ecological zones. Rwebitaba on the other hand will lead the development of seed system for quality cocoa seedlings.
The Project’s Principal Investigator, Mr. Joseph Mulindwa, a research officer at NaCORI, says the key objective of the project is to improve profitability of the cocoa enterprise through increased production and processing for revenue generation.
The project will target to work with 2 cocoa producer organisations in each project target district including Hoima, Bundibugyo and Mukono districts. The farmers will be trained at their farms through demonstration.
One of the innovations that will be scaled out among the cocoa farmer groups is the single fermentation box. The common practice among farmers is to ferment the cocoa beans covered in banana leaves placed on the ground or baskets which is exposed to theft and harsh weather conditions. Some farmers use storey boxes which are expensive to setup. The fermented beans are then dried under the sun to reduce moisture. The fermentation period varies from 6 to 8 days depending on the fermentation method and weather conditions.
According to Mr. Mulindwa, the new technology of the single fermentation box requires a shorter time to ferment (4-5 days); a small space to set up and the mixing is done in one box. Other benefits of the single box technology are; it requires small quantities of cocoa thus appropriate for farmers with an average of 1-3 acres, it is user-friendly as it requires low energy to operate. This can be operated by women and even children. The single fermentation box is made from locally-available and affordable materials, especially timber. It is designed with appropriate holes to allow draining out of the pulp. The pulp can then be carefully collected in other clean containers for use in making other products. This then avails the cocoa farmer opportunities to make more money through channeling waste to income generating products like wine, thus improving their livelihoods. Mr. Mulindwa also adds that most of the project activities will aimed at adding value to cocoa beans through adopting better farming methods, post-harvest practices and helping farmers to add value to cocoa waste. The project will specifically target more youth to interest them in engaging in cocoa farming as a business to improve their livelihoods.