This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
Cacao flowers are so constructed that outside aid appears to be essential for pollination. Many insects are doubtless instrumental in this connection.
Cutting out the Banana Shading from Cacao.
Five or six months usually elapse between flowering and fruiting. The first flowers are not allowed to produce pods, as this exhausts the tree.
The average number of pods which a healthy cacao tree matures per year is approximately seventy, so that only about 1 per cent, of the flowers yields mature fruit.
The beans are found in the pods in five longitudinal rows ; ten beans may be traced in each row, but rarely more than 45 properly developed beans are found.
During the last months of ripening, squirrels, monkeys, rats; deer, and birds will frequently harass the beans, but if snakes abound, as they usually do in the cacao regions, they will destroy and prevent more of these depredators than a hunter's gun.
Cacao produces when about four years old. From the twelfth to the sixteenth year it is at full maturity. The cacao-tree bears nearly all the year round after it has reached the age of five years, but only two harvests are, as a rule, made. The crop varies from 1 to 7 lbs. per tree, and as much as 4 cwts. per acre. Eleven pods produce about a pound of cured beans, each pod containing from 36 to 42 beans on a fully mature tree.
The fruit is yellow and red on the side nearest the sun, the rind thick, the pulp sweet, the seeds numerous, and covered with a thin brown skin or shell.
The native cacao-grower too frequently collects the pods at a time when he can gather the maximum quantity, and often, in consequence, takes over-ripe and under-ripe fruit. He also is inclined to pull off the pods, often thereby tearing and injuring the cushion, from or near which the successive crops of flower and fruit proceed, hence the bearing capacity of the tree is subsequently diminished. The correct method is to cut the pods with a knife or cutlass, and only when fully ripe. The pods should sound hollow when tapped with the knuckles.
The native often leaves his heap of collected pods for two or three days without further attention, he then breaks them open, and the medley of beans and pulp are washed and dried in the sun.
On a careful cacao estate, the beans are shaken out of the pods or extracted with spoons- usually by women -as soon as collected. Then they are piled in heaps and covered by sand and banana leaves, or placed in box-like bins with perforated sides and bottoms, and similarly covered with leaves for fermentation. Every twenty-four hours these bins are emptied into others, so that the contents are thoroughly mixed, or, if in heaps, they are turned over daily for four or five days, until the pulp becomes darker, and the temperature raised to about 140° F. The object of this " sweating," as the process is called, is to remove the dark, sour, sticky liquid, a kind of dilute acetic acid. The beans become duller in colour and the skin is expanded.
They are next laid out in trays or on mats to dry in the sun, or are specially machine-dried. In Ceylon and in West Africa, they are also washed or sprinkled over with moisture and polished, the latter process being done by machine in the more modern plantations, and by natives treading upon the beans in more primitive cacao estates.
In Venezuela, in some parts of West Africa, and in other cacao-bearing regions where Spaniards have been dominant, there is a practice of " claying " the beans by dusting over them a fine red earth during the drying process. The bean is said to be protected thereby from mildew, and the aroma is supposed to be preserved. Often, however, this practice degenerates into a mere ' weighting " of the cacao. Many brokers and manufacturers do not favour " claying," but others do.
The beans are exported to Europe in bags. The process of their manufacture into cocoa or chocolate in this and other countries the author has described elsewhere.
The cost of planting and producing cacao varies, of course, like its yield, according to the country, and also according to the labour obtainable.
In Trinidad, for example, land may be obtained for about £1 per acre, and labour costs from 50 to 100 cents per day, while estates are usually planted on the contract system- i.e., the land is cleared at the owner's expense (25s. to £2 per acre), and handed over to a contractor, who drains and plants for his own profit. When he hands it back, the proprietor pays Is. 3d. per bearing tree, and about half-price for non-bearing ones.
In Samoa the Vice-Consul estimates about £2,800 to start a plantation, and £30 to £40 as the cost per acre from the clearing to the first crop.
The Governor of Fernando Po says that capital invested yields interest in five to six years, and in seven or eight years the whole should be reimbursed.
A native farmer, writing in the Gold Coast Leader in 1916, gave the following estimate of initial expenses on a small native estate of 200 feet by 400 feet:To Clear and Maintain.*
* " Romance of Modern Commerce " (Seeley & Co., London).
1st year, clearing of bush, . . .£400
Felling large trees, . . . . .800
Planting young cacao trees, . . .200
Clearing weeds, . . . . .800
£22 0 0
The trees generally yield as follows :-
4th year, 3 loads at 20s, . . .£300
5th year, 6 loads at 20s., . . .600
6th year, 12 loads at 20s., . . . 12 0 0
£21 0 0
During these years payment to overseers for plucking and drying is 3s. a load, and transport for 20 miles about 4s. a load.
The future lies with the producer of high-grade cocoa at tho lowest cost. Speeding-up and efficiency must be the watchword on the tropical estates as well as in the factories at home.
* The cost, of course, has gone up since this was written, but so also has the price.