by Phuoc Buu
TIEN GIANG — Cocoa products grown in the southern province of Tien Giang have been certified by UTZ Kapeh Viet Nam for meeting international-quality standards.
Farmer Le Tan Sum prunes his cocoa bushes on his farm in Tien Giang Province. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu
The Cho Gao Cocoa Cooperative, which manages 1,500ha of cocoa trees in the province's Cho Gao, Go Cong Tay and Tan Phu Dong districts, was awarded the certification.
"This will lead to more of an impetus to develop cocoa because the certification is awarded to products that have good quality and are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable," said Nguyen Van Thiet, chief representative of UTZ Kapeh Viet Nam.
The certification, however, covers only 185 ha that strictly comply with UTZ-certified processes of taking care of trees, harvesting, fermenting, and drying of cocoa-bean products.
Cocoa products in the cooperative are categorised into two types: market cocoa and UTZ-certified cocoa.
UTZ-certified cocoa products are purchased at a higher price compared to market cocoa.
UTZ production requires strict control of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, local monitoring and origin-tracking systems, farmer clubs, and the production diaries kept by farmers.
UTZ also strongly encourages the use of green fertilisers and non-chemical pesticides during cocoa production.
According to Thiet, the yield of cocoa in the province is rather low, 50 tonnes of dried beans from 185ha. Thus, the cooperative should involve more farmers in UTZ-certified cocoa production.
Nguyen Van Tu, chairman of the Cho Gao Cocoa Cooperative, said it has developed a roadmap to increase the number of farmers in a UTZ-certified cocoa production programme to increase production area and yields.
The local Department of Science and Technology is implementing the programme, funded by Helvitas Swiss International Viet Nam. The programme began in 2009 and will end in 2014.
The cooperative expects to have 1,000 farmers take part in the programme by 2014.
UTZ cocoa production would have an area of 600ha, and yield would add up to 360 tonnes of dried cocoa a year.
Currently, there are 14 UTZ-certified clubs of cocoa farmers.
The clubs have been trained in production techniques, work safety, and post-harvesting techniques by staff from Helvitas and the local Department of Science and Technology.
Helvitas has also given farmers tools, pesticide spray and work-safety clothes.
It provides expertise on cocoa tendering, production, and safety, mainly to leaders of the farmer clubs.
Club leaders, who are cocoa farmers with good production practice, are in charge of training other members on techniques.
They also supervise production under UTZ requirements, collection of cocoa pods from club members for fermentation, and the process of sun-drying.
Farmers are pleased with the programme, saying they can earn more profits from UTZ-certified cocoa. The farmers say they are also more aware about work safety.
Farmer Le Tan Sum, 72, of the province's Go Cong Tay District, said his 0.3ha of cocoa had brought him more earnings.
He previously planned to grow cocoa trees in his spare time in his old age, but now he has become addicted to tendering and doing the work on trees, after receiving training with techniques.
The programme has changed attitudes towards work safety, as farmers are now required to limit pesticide spraying, not use child labour and not dump waste into the environment.
"Earlier, several households even allowed pregnant women to spray pesticides on paddy fields, but thanks to the programme, they stopped it," said Nguyen Van Luy, lead farmer of Tan Thanh Club.
Dr Mai Thanh Phung, director of the Viet Nam Committee for Coordination of Cocoa Development, urged the province to increase cocoa production, saying that techniques learned from the programme would ensure production, and companies would purchase their products.
Cargill Viet Nam is the leading purchaser of local cocoa. The company has worked with local farmers since early cocoa production in 2002, said Nguyen Hoang Hanh, deputy director of the local Department of Science and Technology, who manages the UTZ cocoa programme. — VNS