In Kanthamangala, a beautiful village in Karnataka’s Sullia taluk (located around 90 km from Mangaluru), there is an interesting story of Vishwanatha Rao, a farmer who has turned the cultivation of cocoa crop into a success through hard work and planning.

Since 2000, Rao has been growing cocoa as an intercrop in his 25-acre arecanut plantation, located on the banks of river Payaswini. A crash in arecanut prices during 2000 prompted Rao to take up cocoa as an intercrop.

Like Rao, hundreds of farmers in the region took up cocoa cultivation during the year 2000. Despite initially joining the cocoa bandwagon, numerous farmers eventually uprooted their cocoa plants due to unimpressive returns.

However, Rao steadfastly nurtured his cocoa plants, weathering market fluctuations with unwavering determination. And his patience seems to have paid off. Cocoa prices have hit the roof globally with a shortfall in output in the key producing countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana among others. The flare up in cocoa prices is seen benefitting farmers like Rao in India.

Workers are seen with cocoa pods after harvesting in Vishwanatha Rao’s plantation.

Workers are seen with cocoa pods after harvesting in Vishwanatha Rao’s plantation. | Photo Credit: A J Vinayak

Rao says he harvests around 15 tonnes of wet cocoa beans a year. The wet beans are further processed and sold as dry beans. For every one tonne of wet cocoa processed, farmers get about a third of dry cocoa beans.

Rao revealed that before the onset of Covid, he sold wet cocoa beans in the market. However, adapting to the changing times, he ventured into producing dry cocoa beans during the pandemic.

Detailing the process of converting cocoa pods into dry beans, Rao said first each cocoa pod cracked open to get the beans inside. After a week of fermentation of these beans, the process of drying takes place.

Rao said he did not uproot the plants when the price of wet cocoa beans went below ₹50 a kg though many other growers uprooted plants from their respective plantations. The price of wet cocoa beans was in the range of ₹50 a kg till last year. Now the prices are hovering around ₹295-300 for a kg of wet cocoa beans and ₹880-900 per kg of dry beans.

Rao said cocoa is a food crop and it is used for preparing products such as chocolate and other cocoa-based items. Added to this, the consumption of chocolate and other cocoa-based products is going up in the global market.

Stating that the harvesting period usually ranges from May to July, he said this year it has been shifted to March-May due to the climate change. Plants are prone to fungal diseases during the rainy season. Fungicide spraying would help tackle diseases during rainy season, he said.

Apart from this, animals such as monkeys, rats, squirrels, and Asian palm civet (also known as toddy cat and musang) create problems for the plants. It takes almost five years for cocoa plant to start producing pods. 

Vishwanatha Rao with harvested cocoa pods in Sullia taluk of Karnataka. 

Vishwanatha Rao with harvested cocoa pods in Sullia taluk of Karnataka.  | Photo Credit: A J Vinayak

He sells the cocoa beans to the Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative (Campco) Ltd and other private players such as home-made chocolate producers.

Highlighting the potential for expanding cocoa cultivation in the country, Rao said the country produces around 20,000-25,000 tonnes of dry cocoa beans a year against the requirement of 70,000 tonnes of dry cocoa beans. There is still gap in meeting the requirements of the country’s needs, he said.