Cacao tree Pruning

Cacao pruning
Cacao tree

Benjamin Akane

Agriculturist specialized in the Ghanaian Cocoa system

Share it:

In cacao cultivation, pruning is considered an essential yield-increasing measure. However, the way it affects the growth and yield of the cacao tree and how these are influenced by the size of the tree and competition are poorly understood. Cacao tree care includes 3 types of pruning:

  • phytosanitary pruning for disease control,
  • scion removal, and
  • annual maintenance pruning for crown formation.

According to Emmanuel Mireku Osei et al. (2017), the pruning of shade trees in the agroforestry system first took place in 2013 in Ghana. It continued annually after that before cacao conservation pruning in the late dry season between August and September (for the northern hemisphere and areas close to the equator). The trees were maintained by cutting leaves and replacing pseudostems as needed. Compared to unpruned trees, trimmed trees can regain light interception after one growing season while retaining a more uniform vertical light distribution. Pruning improved the efficiency of how much light a tree can intercept, resulting in higher average light interception per unit leaf area and more light reaching leaves farther up the crown of trimmed trees than unpruned trees. With increased light penetration in the crown and less self-shading, the pruning intervention successfully altered the architecture of the trees toward a more open cup-shaped structure. Like other crops, trees with an open-center structure have higher light interception effectiveness than those with a closed center. A similar finding was reached for simulated open-center peach trees using a 3D modeling approach in cacao trees (Willaume et al., 2004; Tang et al., 2015).

Due to potential disparities in total leaf area between trimmed and unpruned trees, an increase in light collection efficiency only sometimes equates to an improvement in performance. However, Yapp and Hadley (1994) found that in a mature cocoa plantation with a closed canopy, light penetration through the canopy had a bigger impact on yield than light interception. Cocoa is a shade-tolerant species, therefore, decreasing the amount of leaf area completely exposed to the light while increasing the photosynthetic rate of shade leaves can improve carbon uptake. (Almeida and Valle, 2008). According to Lahive et al. (2019), high radiation can cause photoinhibition and photodamage, which could reduce the amount of carbon that those leaves absorb.

Pruning results in a fast adjustment of light interception that, compared to unpruned trees, was linked to an increase in leaf flushing activity. The latter is frequently noted in tree crops that undergo pruning, including apples, cocoa, and mango (Leiva-Rojas et al., 2019). (Fumey et al., 2011). In general, several compensatory mechanisms could play in the quick vegetative growth in response to pruning. According to phenological stages, intensity, and pruning type, those factors’ relative importance varies (Davie et al., 2000; Sharma & Singh, 2006; Fumey et al., 2011). Measurements on photosynthesis, starch content, and sap flow are required to break out the contributions of the components that contributed to the observed compensatory growth.

Large neighboring cocoa trees restricted the amount of flushing that occurred. This outcome is consistent with Mayer’s (1972) finding that cocoa trees in the middle of a stand flushed more frequently than isolated trees. When just groomed trees were considered, the detrimental impact of having large neighbors was more pronounced in trees with more pruning than those with lighter trimming. Stronger pruning had most likely removed more photosynthetic biomass to limit the potential for compensatory development. The presence of larger neighboring trees may have led to smaller amounts of stored reserves (Anten et al., 2003). In-depth research on flushing in relation to non-structural carbohydrate concentrations that consider flushing intensity (i.e., percentage of flushing branches, number of leaves per flush) in addition to flushing activity could shed more light on these compensatory responses since it is well known that the production of new leaves in cocoa heavily depends on stored carbohydrates (Machado & Hardwick, 1988; Taylor, 1988). The total depletion of reserves due to frequent trimming operations may make trees less resistant to unfavorable climatic conditions or pest infestation (Kobe, 1997). Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend how non-structural carbohydrate dynamics respond to pruning in multiyear trials. Finally, more research on pruning-fertilizer interactions is required to offer specific pruning recommendations for unfertilized fields due to the low soil fertility in small-holder cocoa fields (Ali et al., 2018) and the possibility that nutrient limitation can change plants’ compensatory responses and competitiveness (Hawkes & Sullivan, 2001).

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 cocoa productivity 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.