Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) has adopted the use of cocopeat and receptacles as new technologies for raising cocoa seedlings at nursery sites.
The initiative is part of the Board’s moves to streamline its core activities to align with best practices that protect and conserve the environment.
Cocopeat is a soilless organic medium produced from coconut husks with some trace elements which make it a good substitute for topsoil whereas the receptacles are plastic containers adopted to replace polybags often used in raising cocoa seedlings.
Speaking on when the new technologies would be rolled out, the Executive Director of the Seed Production Division (SPD) of COCOBOD, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Ahia Clottey, said 25 out of the 32 Seed Production Division Stations across the country had implemented the new technology for the 2020/21 crop year.
“For a start, the division plans to raise 15 per cent of the 92 million seedlings target for the 2020/21 crop year using the cocopeat and the receptacles. This will be increased to enable us to identify challenges with the use of the technologies and address them accordingly because it is the best way to go,” he said.
Explaining the rationale for the new technologies, Rev. Ahia Clottey said polybags, which were usually used for raising cocoa seedlings are not biodegradable and could, in the long run, reduce the quality of the eco-system.
He said the use of the receptacles in seedlings production will ensure environmental sustainability because they are re-usable and also cost-effective.
Rev. Clottey further said over-reliance on topsoil can result in sand winning and cause considerable harm to the environment and life, hence the need to shift from the practice.
Every year, SPD raises millions of cocoa seedlings for free distribution to farmers in the country. The process involves the use of polybags and topsoil normally obtained from places such as treated and abandoned old refuse dump sites.
Although, there are always deliberate attempts by SPD to ensure that the polybags are properly disposed of after the seedlings had been transplanted, there are still some concerns about the environment because the bags are not easily decomposable. Again, collecting topsoil continuously is also not eco-friendly.
In most cases, the topsoil collected usually contains numerous debris like broken bottles, stones in addition to the presence of termites, bacteria, fungus and efforts at sieving and re-conditioning the medium physically and chemically before use is time-consuming, laborious and expensive.
“Bamboos and palm fronts are often cut and used to erect nursery structures over the nursed seeds during the process. In addition to the imminent destruction of plant species and animal habitats due to the practice, the nursery structures built usually last for just a year and require new structures to be erected every year and this is not cost-effective at all,” he bemoaned.
Rev. Clottey said modernization of the division’s activities was a prerequisite for transforming operations and achieving maximum impact.
He hinted that all nursery sites at SPD’s stations and those established on lands owned by COCOBOD now have permanent structures constructed with treated wood, galvanized poles, and shade nets.
‘We are unable to build such permanent structures at all places because some of the sites have not fully been acquired by COCOBD to enable us erect permanent shades which are durable and guarantee value for money,’ he noted.
On the advantages of cocopeat and receptacles, he said the two media are not only ecologically friendly but also provide good condition for the proper growth of the seedlings.
The cocopeat promotes high water retention; ensures good germination and fast seedling emergence. The receptacles on the other hand have holes underneath which ensure good drainage and guarantee intact healthy roots formation.
Again, removing seedlings for transplanting is from receptacles is achieved with minimum disturbances to the young plant and these qualities are essential for a high survival rate of seedlings.
Rev. Ahia Clottey said his outfit and the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) were working to monitor the twin-technologies under certain parameters to gather adequate observations, which will help to provide the necessary backstopping to improve efficiency.
“Technology is the way to go now given heightened and continuous concerns from environmentalists on the need to ensure biodiversity conservation in cocoa cultivation and for that matter agriculture,” he added.