BINH PHUOC — Viet Nam hopes to become a major supplier of cocoa beans in the world market, with production of 50,000 tonnes of fermented beans by 2020.
It plans to have 50,000ha under cocoa cultivation, of which 42,000ha would yield the fruit.
The cocoa sector in Viet Nam is showing signs of rapid growth, according to Phan Huy Thong, director of the National Agriculture Extension Centre, who spoke at a forum on sustainable cocoa development in Binh Phuoc Province last week.
Total cultivated land is now about 20,100ha, yielding 5,100 tonnes last year. There were only 2,000ha of land planted with cocoa trees in 2005.
Cultivation exists mainly in 10 provinces, including Ben Tre, Tien Giang, Dak Nong, Dak Lak, Binh Phuoc and Ba Ria-Vung Tau, mostly grown under the shade of other crops, including coconut palms and cashew trees.
Phan Van Don, deputy director of Binh Phuoc Province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said cocoa could be an attractive crop to smallholder farmers, both in intercropping and monoculture systems.
Cocoa has the advantage of lower labour costs to coffee and rubber, less water requirements compared to coffee.
Intercropping with cashew gardens in the province has been successful as well.
Nguyen Khac Thuoc, a farmer in Bu Dang District of Binh Phuoc Province, said that intercropping with his 5ha under cashew cultivation had helped him raise his income substantially.
Nguyen Van Hoa, deputy head of the Cultivation Department, said there was an increasing demand for the high-nutritive valued bean in the global and domestic markets. Cocoa supply globally was much lower than demand.
Viet Nam has to import more than 10,000 tonnes of cocoa powder for local production annually.
Cocoa was not expected to face strong price fluctuations as other farm produce, Hoa said.
The price of cocoa as well as other farm produce in the domestic market has fallen this year due to a drop in price in the world market, but compared to other agricultural products like rubber and cashew, cocoa prices have not fallen much.
Despite the potential of the sector, many delegates at the forum agreed that the sector had not yet reached its potential due to poor farming practices, limited technological transfer, poor planting materials and outbreaks of pests and diseases.
In addition, the planting was scattered and small-scale, causing difficulties to production and consumption, Hoa said.
Since cocoa is still a relatively new tree in Viet Nam, little research has been conducted on the plant in the country.
With less experience in planting cocoa compared to other trees, farmers are still hesitating about planting the tree, according to Thong.
He said that, to meet the planning target, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should review zoning plans for cocoa cultivation in the country.
Each locality should identify the amount of cocoa cultivation and then draw up appropriate plans.
He said that scientists and agricultural research institutes should focus more on research to create new high-quality seedlings, better cultivation techniques, and measures to prevent and control pests and diseases.
The Government is encouraging co-operation between concerned agencies and the private sector to develop the cocoa industry.
Delegates suggested that the Government establish standards for cocoa quality, and develop more agricultural extension programmes to provide farmers with skills and techniques in growing, harvesting and processing cocoa.
They also recommended that modern technologies should be used for processing cocoa beans to achieve higher quality.
Hoa said Viet Nam would increase the value of the bean by meeting standards for certificates granted for high quality cocoa production.
Organised by the Central Agriculture Extension Centre, the forum attracted policymakers, scientists and agriculture experts as well as more than 300 farmers from 10 provinces. — VNS