Cacao Soil requirements and Planting distances

Cacao Soil requirements and Planting distances
Cacao tree

Benjamin Akane

Agriculturist specialized in the Ghanaian Cocoa system

Share it:

Cocoa is grown on many soil types. Cacao trees are more susceptible to moisture stress than many other tropical plants. In addition, cacao trees suffer from waterlogging (Anim-Kwapong & Frimpong, 2005). Flooding is not a problem for them, but sluggish or waterlogged conditions are. A minimum depth of 1.5 meters (5 feet) is required for cacao cultivation. Cacao thrives in humus-rich soil. The roots can easily penetrate suitable soils that retain moisture even in dry seasons and allow air and moisture to pass through unhindered. Cocoa requires at least 3.5 percent organic matter in the top 15 cm (45 in), with about 2 % carbon. Cocoa thrives in soils with a pH of 6 to 7.5 and is rich in essential nutrients and trace elements (Anim- Kwapong and Frimpong, 2005). According to a field and profile analysis of soils suitable for cocoa, the main physical characteristics are deep, friable loam to clay soils and sandy loam soils. These soil profiles have a low cation exchange capacity (CEC), with the exchange capacity highest in the uppermost layer, due to the massive buildup and subsequent decomposition of organic matter. The cacao plant requires high rainfall and temperatures (30 oC during the day and 24 oC during the night, or 86 and 75 oF respectively) to grow and rainforest trees to provide shade and protect it from excessive light and wind damage. Because cacao cultivation is sensitive to this type of climate, it can only thrive in a narrow band of regions between 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Soil moisture limits for cocoa cultivation in Ghana during the dry season are variable and depend on several factors, including shade, air movement, soil texture and structure, age and vigor of the cocoa tree, volume and distribution of active roots, and rooting depth under field conditions. In determining soil suitability for cocoa cultivation in terms of soil moisture, the delivery rate of available water from the soil to the tree is critical (Ahenkorah, 1981). Many factors contribute to low yields, including technical challenges such as soil fertility, drought, and the quality of planting materials, as well as diseases and pests.

Planting Distances for Cacao

There are many different opinions about the spacing between cocoa plants. In Ghana, it is grown at relatively close distances, 6 or 7 ft. (1.8-2 m) apart. In Suriname and tropical South America, cacao is usually grown at distances of 15-24 ft (4.5-7.3 m). Little experimental work has been done on this subject. Based on experimental results of a cropping series at River Estate, Trinidad, testing 4 distances of 12, 14, 16, and 18 feet (3.6, 4.3, 4.9 and 5.5 m), the 12-foot (3.6 m) spacing produced the highest yield until the 6th year. Still, they were then surpassed by the 14-foot (4.3 m) spacing. Scientists concluded that in the range of 800 to 1,100 trees per acre (2,000-2,750 trees per hectare), yield per acre was little affected by spacing but that at greater spacing, yield declined. Furthermore, the average wet bean weight and the number of pods per tree increased with decreasing stand density but not enough to increase yield per acre at lower densities. However, yields in this experiment are far below their potential and are apparently growing under suboptimal conditions.

Smallholders growing cocoa in Ghana often prefer to grow plantain/banana and some fruits and use little or no fertilizer. Most of these smallholder farmers in the southern part of Ghana use Cocobod’s recommended low planting density (LDP) of cocoa with a spacing of 3.0 x 3.0 m (10 x 10 ft), while some well-established commercial farmers choose a spacing of 2.5 x 2.5 m (8 x 8 ft) and grow their cocoa as a monoculture. Plantain and/or banana are traditionally planted as undersows to cacao in the early years. Still, some economic crops such as mahogany, orange, and oil palm are sometimes grown with cacao. However, some economic trees such as pear, African star apple, Irvingia ganbonensis, and some non-economic trees are also allowed to grow together with cocoa plants to provide shade and an additional source of income for the farms. While the productivity of a smallholder farm ranges from 250 to 400 kg per ha (223-357 lb/acre), the yield in the larger modern farms, where more inputs are used, ranges from 400 to 700 kg per ha (357-625 lb/acre). This yield also depends on the variety planted and the management of the farm, as farmers sometimes do not use inorganic fungicides properly, which can lead to yield losses of up to 40% due to black pod disease. Several trials have been conducted in other countries to demonstrate the superiority of high-density stands over traditional low-density plantings. A direct linear positive relationship between higher yields per unit area under high-density planting (HDP) in Colombia. In contrast, other experiments reported an increase in the dry weight of cocoa beans per hectare in plantations established with an HDP technique in Malaysia, with better yield performance per hectare of cocoa under HPD in Trinidad and Tobago. In Ghana, after several trials in the 1970s, the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) recommended 3 planting spacings: 2.5 x 2.5 m (8.2 x 8.2 ft), 3.0 x 3.0 m (9.8 x 9.8 feet), and 3.1 x 3.1 m (10.2 x 10.2 ft). The 2 mostly used systems are the first 2 results in 1600 and 1111 trees per hectare (640 and 444 trees per acre), respectively. However, research efforts to ensure sustainable cocoa production at the early stage of the establishment are considered a step in the right direction, which is essential for the survival of young cocoa in the field and the improvement of farmers’ income. Given various development projects, the shift of labor from rural to urban areas, and competition for arable land in southern Ghana, it is clear that concerted efforts must be made for effective resource utilization and increased productivity in cocoa farming. The future of cocoa in southern Ghana will depend on the optimization of cocoa yield per unit area rather than the acquisition of large cultivated areas, which requires the exploration and application of the HDP strategy for cocoa production in the country. This experiment aimed to determine the highest stand density at which cocoa trees can be planted effectively to achieve the highest economic yield per hectare in the western part of Ghana.

Further reading

Cacao production: Challenges and Management Strategies
Cacao Variety Selection and Propagation
Cacao Soil requirements and Planting distances
Water needs and Irrigation of Cacao
Cacao Fertilization and Nutrient Requirements
Cacao Plant Protection – Major Stresses, Disease and Pest of Cacao
Cacao tree Pruning
Yield, Harvest, Handling and Storage of Cacao
Sales, Trading, and Shipping Cocoa Beans


Abara, I. O., and Singh, S. (1993). Ethics and biases in technology adoption: The small-firm argument. Technological Forecasting and Social Change43(3-4), 289-300.

Adamu, C. O. (2018). Analysis of access to formal credit facilities among rural women farmers in Ogun State, Nigeria. Nigeria Agricultural Journal49(1), 109-116.

Adu-Asare, K. (2018). Cocoa farming business, financial literacy and social welfare of farmers in Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana (Doctoral dissertation, University of Cape Coast).

Ahenkorah, Y. (1981). Influence of environment on growth and production of the cacao tree: soils and nutrition. In Actes, Douala, Cameroun, 4-12 Nov 1979/7 Conference internationale sur la recherche cacaoyere= Proceedings, Douala, Cameroun, 4-12 Nov 1979/7 International Cocoa Research Conference. Lagos, Nigeria: Secretary General, Cocoa Producers’ Alliance, 1981.

Akudugu, M. A., Guo, E., and Dadzie, S. K. (2012). Adoption of modern agricultural production technologies by farm households in Ghana: what factors influence their decisions?

Ali, E. B., Awuni, J. A., and Danso-Abbeam, G. (2018). Determinants of fertilizer adoption among smallholder cocoa farmers in the Western Region of Ghana. Cogent Food & Agriculture4(1), 1538589.

Ameyaw, G. A., Dzahini-Obiatey, H. K., and Domfeh, O. (2014). Perspectives on cocoa swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD) management in Ghana. Crop Protection65, 64-70.

Aneani, F., Anchirinah, V. M., Owusu-Ansah, F., and Asamoah, M. (2012). Adoption of some cocoa production technologies by cocoa farmers in Ghana. Sustainable Agriculture Research1(1), 103.

Bonabana-Wabbi, J. (2002). Assessing factors affecting adoption of agricultural technologies: The case of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Kumi District, Eastern Uganda (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).

Danso-Abbeam, G., Addai, K. N., and Ehiakpor, D. (2014). Willingness to pay for farm insurance by smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana. Journal of Social Science for Policy Implications2(1), 163-183.

Dormon, E. V., Van Huis, A., Leeuwis, C., Obeng-Ofori, D., and Sakyi-Dawson, O. (2004). Causes of low productivity of cocoa in Ghana: farmers’ perspectives and insights from research and the socio-political establishment. NJAS: Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences52(3-4), 237-259.

Doss, C. R. (2006). Analyzing technology adoption using microstudies: limitations, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. Agricultural economics34(3), 207-219.

Giovanopoulou, E., Nastis, S. A., and Papanagiotou, E. (2011). Modeling farmer participation in agri-environmental nitrate pollution reducing schemes. Ecological economics70(11), 2175- 2180

Hailu, E., Getaneh, G., Sefera, T., Tadesse, N., Bitew, B., Boydom, A., … and Temesgen, T. (2014). Faba bean gall; a new threat for faba bean (Vicia faba) production in Ethiopia. Adv Crop Sci Tech2(144), 2.

International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), (2008). Manual on pesticides use in cocoa. ICCO Press releases of 10 June 2008 by ICCO Executive Director Dr. Jan Vingerhoets. International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), London.

Kehinde, A. D., and Tijani, A. A. (2011). Effects of access to livelihood capitals on adoption of European Union (EU) approved pesticides among cocoa producing households in Osun State, Nigeria. Agricultura Tropica et Subtropica54(1), 57-70.

Khanna, M. (2001). Sequential adoption of site‐specific technologies and its implications for nitrogen productivity: A double selectivity model. American journal of agricultural economics83(1), 35-51.

Kongor, J. E., Boeckx, P., Vermeir, P., Van de Walle, D., Baert, G., Afoakwa, E. O., and Dewettinck, K. (2019). Assessment of soil fertility and quality for improved cocoa production in six cocoa growing regions in Ghana. Agroforestry Systems93(4), 1455-1467.

Kumi, E., and Daymond, A. J. (2015). Farmers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the Cocoa Disease and Pest Control Programme (CODAPEC) in Ghana and its effects on poverty reduction. American Journal of Experimental Agriculture7(5), 257-274.

MoFA, 2010. Production of major crops in Ghana, PPMED, Accra, 12 pp.

Namara, R. E., Horowitz, L., Nyamadi, B., and Barry, B. (2011). Irrigation development in Ghana: Past experiences, emerging opportunities, and future directions.

Nandi, R., and Nedumaran, S. (2021). Understanding the aspirations of farming communities in developing countries: a systematic review of the literature. The European Journal of Development Research33(4), 809-832.

Ngala, T. J. (2015). Effect of shade trees on cocoa yield in small-holder cocoa (Theobroma cacao) agroforests in Tabla, Centre Cameroon (Doctoral dissertation, Thesis, crop sciences. University of Dschang, Cameroon).

Ofori-Bah, A., and Asafu-Adjaye, J. (2011). Scope economies and technical efficiency of cocoa agroforesty systems in Ghana. Ecological Economics70(8), 1508-1518.

Ogunsumi, L. O., and Awolowo, O. (2010). Synthesis of extension models and analysis for sustainable agricultural technologies: lessons for extension workers in southwest, Nigeria. Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America1(6), 1187-1192.

Okojie, L. O., Olowoyo, S. O., Sanusi, R. A., and Popoola, A. R. (2015). Cocoa farming households’ vulnerability to climate variability in Ekiti State, Nigeria. International Journal of Applied Agriculture and Apiculture Research11(1-2), 37-50.

Okyere, E., and Mensah, A. C. (2016). Cocoa production in Ghana: trends and volatility. International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, 5 (3), 462-471.

Opoku-Ameyaw, K., Oppong, F. K., Amoah, F. M., Osei-Akoto, S., and Swatson, E. (2011). Growth and early yield of cashew intercropped with food crops in northern Ghana. Journal of Tropical Agriculture49, 53-57.

Oyekale, A. S. (2012). Impact of climate change on cocoa agriculture and technical efficiency of cocoa farmers in South-West Nigeria. Journal of human ecology40(2), 143-148.

Wessel, M., and Quist-Wessel, P. F. (2015). Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS: Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences74(1), 1-7.

World Bank (2011). Supply Chain Risk Assessment: Cocoa in Ghana. Ghana Cocoa SCRA Report.

World Bank. 2007. World development report 2007: Development and the next generation. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Wossen, T., Berger, T., Mequaninte, T., and Alamirew, B. (2013). Social network effects on the adoption of sustainable natural resource management practices in Ethiopia. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology20(6), 477-483.

( Dohmen, et al. 2018)  Temperature changes, drought, and prolonged dry season affect the flavor and overall quality of the product

(Neilson, 2007) Unlike Farmers in West Africa, Cocoa farmers in Latin America tend to ferment the cocoa pulp surrounding the beans using wooden boxes. In Indonesia, farmers rarely take part in the fermentation process because their production is valued mostly for cocoa butter which is unaffected by fermentation


We join forces with N.G.O.s, Universities, and other organizations globally to fulfill our common mission on sustainability and human welfare.