Selected Cocoa farms in Ghana were chosen to test the use of Remote Sensing (RM) to apply fertilisers to crops. The Soil Research Institute (SRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is leading the pilot project with the aim of identifying the specific requirements of local Cocoa-growing soils.

Currently, most fertilisers used on Cocoa farms are generic. However, with this new technology, it is hoped to provide site-specific fertiliser recommendations that could increase Cocoa yields.

Some fertilisers are generalised, which all farmers are using.

We want to improve on that, so we want to take cognisance of the nutrient levels in every soil using the remote sensing approach.

Dr Edward Yeboah, Director, SRI

Dr Yeboah explained the technology and how it will be used to improve farmers’ Cocoa production.

We look at the above ground and try to come out with what will be deficient from the above-ground perspective, then we use our soil information to be able to understand what is really lacking in the soil and provide the exact nutrient to get the optimum yield of cocoa.

Dr Edward Yeboah, Director, SRI

The pilot project is currently taking place in trial fields in New Edubiase, Maabang and Offinso to compare the performance of NPK fertiliser with Poly-4, a Cocoa-specific fertiliser blend. Dr Yeboah told the Ghana News Agency during a visit to the trial field in Offinso that crops fertilised with the Poly-4 fertiliser blend showed significant improvements, although the pilot project is still ongoing.

The Poly-4 blend was applied to trees aged 10 to 15 years in early June this year. After harvest, the yield was found to be 17 to 22 per cent higher than crops using the normal COCOBOD fertiliser.

Dr Yeboah noted that it may be necessary to systematically fertilise the Cocoa soil to increase yield. Consequently, specific soil improvement techniques need to be developed, which are likely to be challenging to implement in the Cocoa value chain, he added.

The African Plant Nutrition Research Fund on Cocoa, a three-year project funded by the Morocco-based African Plant Nutrition Institute (APNI), has also been established at the institute to further develop Cocoa-specific fertilisation.

As with many of the initiatives aimed at improving the situation of Cocoa farmers, Dr Yeboah pointed out the importance of all key stakeholders communicating with each other on a single platform to discuss the issues facing the industry. This includes discussions between COCOBOD, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), farmers, input suppliers and researchers.

He expressed his hope that COCOBOD will support the actions derived from the project results.

We cannot claim we have all the answers to the emerging problems as does COCOBOD, MoFA, and farmers, but when we come together, what emerges from research can inform us to make decisions for increased crop yields.

Dr Edward Yeboah, Director, SRI

​Dr Thomas Oberthur, Business and Partnership Development Officer, APNI, pointed out that the results of agricultural research in Africa are often not implemented quickly or directly for the benefit of farmers.

Therefore, he said, it is crucial that the research conducted by the Institute is practical and can support real change in agricultural management and practices. Dr Oberthur believes that Remote Sensing could provide enough information to establish guidelines for specific crop nutrient requirements. For this reason, the APNI is supporting the project.

Pricing for the new solution will be another important consideration, as Cocoa farmers are currently struggling with increased fertiliser prices, among other issues. It is not clear whether the costs will be subsidised, as COCOBOD has done in the past for some fertilisers.

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