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Exploring Indonesia’s Diverse Cacao Plantations

amount to approximately 1.5 million hectares, 80% of which are located in Sulawesi and Sumatra. Cacao beans export from Indonesia is roughly USD 63.85 milllion, making Indonesia the 13th largest exporter of cacao beans, albeit being the 3rd largest producer in the world.

In the realm of chocolate treasures, Indonesia stands as a captivating land blessed with cacao riches that tantalize the taste buds with their unparalleled flavour complexity and diversity. Amidst the diverse island landscapes and unique microclimates, each cocoa bean carries a distinct character shaped by the fertile soils and tropical conditions that define the Indonesian cocoa experience.

Where does cacao grow in Indonesia?

cacao plantation, cocoa plantation, cacao plantations in Indonesia

Source: databoks.katadata.co.id

Sulawesi Cacao Plantations: The Cocoa Crown Jewel

This island is the undisputed king of Indonesian cacao production, particularly in the regions of Luwu and Konawe Selatan. These areas boast fertile volcanic soil and ideal climates for cocoa tree plantation, and the beans produced here are known for their complex and flavorful profiles.

A close-up of a tree branch with fruitsDescription automatically generated

Sulawesi have its own superior cacao varieties, namely Sulawesi 1, Sulawesi 2, Masamba Cocoa Clone or MCC 01, and MCC 02. These varieties can yield about 2 – 2.5 ton/hectare per year, much higher than regular cacao varieties which only yield about 0.64 ton/hectare per year.

Flavour Profiles of Sulawesi Cacao Beans

Cacao plantations in Luwu and Konawe both yielded distinct flavour in their end products. While Luwu has a more floral notes, Konawe boasts bold earthiness. The flavor profile of cacao beans, particularly the floral and earthy notes, is influenced by various factors such as fermentation, genetic variety, and post-harvest processing.

Konawe cocoa bean plantation have demonstrated good adaptation to Sulawesi‘s agroclimatic conditions and have been extensively cultivated in central areas for cacao production.

A group of huts with trees in the backgroundDescription automatically generated

On the other hand, there are findings about the elevated levels of Pb in the cocoa shells in East Luwu, South Sulawesi, but fortunately undetectable levels in the cocoa beans. Hence, it should not have an adverse effect on the taste and flavour of the resulting beans and chocolate products.

Studies have shown that the final flavor profile of cacao beans is developed during post-harvest stages, including fermentation, drying, and roasting. The impact of fermentation on the flavor compounds of cacao beans has been highlighted, indicating that the degree of fermentation affects the flavor characteristics of the beans.

A sunset over a body of water with a mountain in the distanceDescription automatically generated

In regard to Sulawesi cacao plantations, one of the most intriguing topics is the effect of soil characteristics on cacao cultivation. Sulawesi is well known for its volcanic soil, and volcanic soil is said to be highly suitable for cacao plantations. To discuss more about soil characteristics, we will take a longer route to ponder on the impact of volcanic soil on cocoa plantations.

The Complex Impact of Volcanic Soil on Cacao Plantations

Volcanic soil can have both positive and negative implications for cacao plantations. Volcanic soil is rich in minerals and can provide essential nutrients for cacao trees, contributing to their growth and productivity. However, volcanic soil may also contain high levels of certain elements, such as cadmium, which can be absorbed by cacao plants, potentially impacting the quality and safety of the end product.

Effect of Cadmium on Cacao Plantations

Research in southern Equador has shown that historical deposits of volcanic ashes and continental dusts can contribute to soil cadmium (Cd) accumulation, which in turn can affect the quality of cacao beans. High Cd contamination in Peruvian cacao beans have led to a reduction of export, contributing to income loss of 31% on average.

A group of silver objectsDescription automatically generated

In the case of Indonesia, further studies are needed to thoroughly comprehend the effect of volcanic soil to agricultural production, including cacao cultivation. A recent study on volcanic ash of Lokon volcano in North Sulawesi, Indonesia made no mention of cadmium accumulation in the soil. It is possible that the characteristic of Equador and Sulawesi volcanic soil may differ, as the presence of cadmium in volcanic soil can be vary due to a range of factors. For instance, cadmium can also contaminate soil through bird excrement, industrial pollutants, or other human activities as studied in Galapagos.

Nevertheless, the relationship between soil properties and cacao beans is highly complex. Soils, especially volcanic ones, contain myriad of minerals. So, what are the beneficial soil minerals for cacao plantations?

What nutrients do cacao trees need?

The main nutrients needed by cocoa plants are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Magnesium (Mg), Zinc (Zn), and Boron (B). Volcanic soil can contain many of these nutrients, making it still a great soil choice for cacao plantations.

Close-up of a gauge on a rusty surfaceDescription automatically generated

Effect of Volcanic Soil to Cacao Plants' Nutrients

The use of volcanic ash soil amendment has been shown to have potential for reducing iron and aluminum activity in soils, indicating the potential for soil renewal. Although iron and aluminium in soil can have positive impact on cacao plantations, high concentration of both metals can be detrimental to cacao plants.

When the soil is acidic, high concentration of iron and aluminium can be toxic to cacao plants. Hence, volcanic soil is a great remedy to this condition.

A mountain with smoke and fireDescription automatically generated

Moreover, volcanic ash-derived soils also affect boron adsorption and desorption. Boron is also an important nutrient for cacao trees, as aforementioned. Boron availability in volcanic soil can be influenced by various physico-chemical soil characteristics, including pH, organic matter content, and mineral composition. Boron deficiency often limits the yields of cacao plantations. However, high level of boron can cause toxicity to cacao plants.

Cacao Plantations Treatment

Overall, noting that volcanic soil has potential positive and negative impact to , farmers must rely on tree treatment as well. But, which treatment is the best?

A hand holding a handful of blue granulesDescription automatically generated

A study in South Sulawesi mentioned that after 20 months of treatment, it is evident that cacao trees receiving compost treatment yielded more than those treated with fertilizer or dolomite. Nevertheless, since soil conditions differ, even within Sulawesi Island, prior experiments on different areas might be necessary before deriving into a certain conclusion about which treatment is best for cacao plantations.

Genetic Diversity of Konawe and Luwu Cacao Beans

Genetic diversity plays a role, as the sources of Konawe cacao beans include hybrids produced in seed gardens operated by the Indonesian government, local selections made by Sulawesi farmers, and materials introduced by migrant workers from plantations in Malaysia. This indicates a diverse origin for Konawe cacao beans, which may contribute to their specific characteristics.

Criollo variety, has been found to contain predominant amounts of volatiles that contribute to fine flavor aroma, including floral and fruity notes. However, studies on Indonesian cacao bean varieties, including those from Luwu, are still limited, which suggests that further research is needed to fully understand the differences between these two types of cacao beans in Sulawesi.

Sumatra Cacao Plantations

In Sumatra, the largest cacao plantations are focused in Aceh, West Sumatra, and Lampung provinces.

Cacao Plantations in Aceh Province

In Aceh province, cacao plantations are widespread is Southeast Aceh, East Aceh, Pidie, Bireuen, North Aceh, Nagan Raya, and Pidie Jaya regions. The issues with Aceh cacao plantations are rejuvenation need and diseases prevention.

A large white building with black domes with Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in the backgroundDescription automatically generated

According to report in January 2024, cacao plantations in Aceh has reduced to half. Multiple causes, such as low commodity prices and plant diseases drive cacao farmers to plant other commodities instead. In order to increase cacao plantations' productivity, local government introduces rejuvenation efforts, especially to help cacao farmers who are mostly lacking funds to do so. One of which is to systematically cut unproductive cacao tree branches to retain humidity.

Cacao Plantations in West Sumatra

In West Sumatra, cacao plantations are found in Padang, Padang Pariaman, Mentawai, Pesisir Selatan, Solok, Solok Selatan, Sijunjung, Tanah Datar, Agam, Limapuluh Kota, Pasaman, Pasaman Barat, Dharmasraya, and Sawahlunto regions.

Some superior cacao varieties in West Sumatra includes TSH 858, ICS 60, and Scavina. These varieties are widely cultivated due to their ability to thrive in high humidity conditions of West Sumatra, averaging 80-85%, and being resistant to diseases caused by Phytophthora palmivora fungus.

A tower in the distanceDescription automatically generated

In 2015, Mr Edi Syafianto, a cacao farmer from West Sumatra, received an International Cocoa Award in Paris, France. Syafianto and Kelompok Tani Inovasi discovered BL50, a superior cacao bean variety named after his home district. BL50 can yield up to 4.5 ton/hectare per year, much higher than Sulawesi's MCC 01 and MCC 02. The variety is also considered one of top 50 best tasting cacao beans.

Despite the encouraging breakthrough, in 2020, cacao plantations in West Sumatra have reduced to half, just like in Aceh.

Challenges of Cacao Plantations in Sumatra

Low plantation productivity resulting from ineffective practices is a key challenge in Indonesian cacao plantation. As 96% of cacao plantations are smallholder plantations, with an average ownership of 1 hectare per farmer, cacao plantation practice standardization is a top issue.

Most cacao farmers still utilize traditional method and regular seeds, not superior ones. Acquiring superior seeds is a recurring problem for these farmers. Hence, their cacao plants are disease-prone and low yielding, causing farmers to switch commodities altogether.

A person in a straw hat holding straws in a fieldDescription automatically generated

Bali

Cacao plantations can be found in Bali, Indonesia, and there are several chocolate factories and eco-farms that offer tours and workshops for visitors. Pod Origin, Big Tree Farms, and Ubud Raw Chocolate are some of the chocolate producers that value sustainable and fair trade practices.

A stone gate with a couple of towersDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

The Pod Chocolate Factory and Café, for example, specializes in two types of chocolate, most of which are handmade from organic local produce. Visitors can take a tour of the factory and farm, attend chocolate-making workshops, and taste different chocolate and praline flavors.

Cau Factory & Farm is another place where visitors can see cacao trees and a chocolate factory. Although Bali is not a major cacao producer compared to other provinces in Indonesia, it has a growing artisanal that values sustainable and organic agricultural systems.

West Papua

Cocoa cultivation in West Papua, Indonesia, was introduced in the 1950s, and the region has since become a producer of cacao. The British Commonwealth Development Corporation established a 4,064 ha concession in Ransiki, in the northwest of the province, which covered around 1,785 Ha and produced over 2,000 tonnes of dried cocoa at its peak.

Men in traditional attire standing in front of a hutDescription automatically generated

However, following a combination of ownership changes and lack of fresh investments, the plantation had to be rehabilitated. The cooperative Ebier Suth (‘Unity to Arise') Cokran was established to support the sustainable growth of food commodities, including cacao, coffee, vanilla, various nuts, and seaweed.

The cooperative plans to rehabilitate approximately 1,000 Ha of the former plantation within the next 3-5 years. The Governor has also laid the foundation for a new small chocolate factory on the grounds of the cooperative, which will produce chocolate for the local Indonesian market. The cocoa varieties grown in West Papua include Trinitario and Forastero, and the fermentation style is wooden boxes, while the drying style is indirect sun-dried on raised beds.

Borneo

Cacao is an important commodity for East Borneo farmers. Several districts that cultivate cacao includes Berau, Kutai Timur, and Mahakam Ulu. However, productivity is still low at 550 kg/hectare in average.

A person in a traditional garmentDescription automatically generated

Although most cacao farmers in these regions still utilize traditional method, some farmers are able to cultivate cacao more efficiently. Some of the preferred superior seeds are MCC 02, Sulawesi 2, and Lindak. These superior seeds have higher yield rate and more disease-resistant, especially during rainy seasons.

Sumba

Smallholders' cacao plantations in Sumba mostly started after 2000. Corporate cacao plantations are also present in Sumba. Ghaura Chocolate, produced by PT Timor Mitra Niaga, was the first professionally managed cacao plantation in Sumba, established in 1990. The product won the Cocoa of Excellence Award in 2015.

A person walking a horse on a hillDescription automatically generated

Indonesian cocoa plantations contribute to the local economy and provide employment opportunities for the people in the region. With proper knowledge and plant management, cacao farmers can increase productivity and profitability of the commodity.

Where does cocoa grow in Indonesia? Exploring Indonesia's Diverse Cacao Plantations

Cacao plantations in Indonesia amount to approximately 1.5 million hectares, 80% of which are located in Sulawesi and Sumatra. Cacao beans export from Indonesia is roughly USD 63.85 milllion, making Indonesia the 13th largest exporter of cacao beans, albeit being the 3rd largest cocoa producer in the world.

In the realm of chocolate treasures, Indonesia stands as a captivating land blessed with cacao riches that tantalize the taste buds with their unparalleled flavour complexity and diversity. Amidst the diverse island landscapes and unique microclimates, each cocoa bean carries a distinct character shaped by the fertile soils and tropical conditions that define the Indonesian cocoa experience.

Provinces with the highest-yielding cacao in Indonesia

A bar graph with numbers and a number of objectsDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

Source: databoks.katadata.co.id

Sulawesi Cacao Plantations: The Cocoa Crown Jewel

This island is the undisputed king of Indonesian cacao production, particularly in the regions of Luwu and Konawe Selatan. These areas boast fertile volcanic soil and ideal climates for growing cacao, and the beans produced here are known for their complex and flavorful profiles.

A close-up of a tree branch with fruitsDescription automatically generated

Sulawesi have its own superior cacao varieties, namely Sulawesi 1, Sulawesi 2, Masamba Cocoa Clone or MCC 01, and MCC 02. These varieties can yield about 2 – 2.5 ton/hectare per year, much higher than regular cacao varieties which only yield about 0.64 ton/hectare per year.

Flavour Profiles of Sulawesi Cacao Beans

Cacao plantations in Luwu and Konawe both yielded distinct flavour in their end products. While Luwu has a more floral notes, Konawe boasts bold earthiness. The flavor profile of cacao beans, particularly the floral and earthy notes, is influenced by various factors such as fermentation, genetic variety, and post-harvest processing.

Konawe cacao beans have demonstrated good adaptation to Sulawesi‘s agroclimatic conditions and have been extensively cultivated in central areas for cacao production.

A group of huts with trees in the backgroundDescription automatically generated

On the other hand, there are findings about the elevated levels of Pb in the cocoa shells in East Luwu, South Sulawesi, but fortunately undetectable levels in the cocoa beans. Hence, it should not have an adverse effect on the taste and flavour of the resulting beans and chocolate products.

Studies have shown that the final flavor profile of cacao beans is developed during post-harvest stages, including fermentation, drying, and roasting. The impact of fermentation on the flavor compounds of cacao beans has been highlighted, indicating that the degree of fermentation affects the flavor characteristics of the beans.

A sunset over a body of water with a mountain in the distanceDescription automatically generated

In regard to Sulawesi cacao plantations, one of the most intriguing topics is the effect of soil characteristics on cacao cultivation. Sulawesi is well known for its volcanic soil, and volcanic soil is said to be highly suitable for cacao plantations. To discuss more about soil characteristics, we will take a longer route to ponder on the impact of volcanic soil on cocoa plantations.

The Complex Impact of Volcanic Soil on Cacao Plantations

Volcanic soil can have both positive and negative implications for cacao plantations. Volcanic soil is rich in minerals and can provide essential nutrients for cacao trees, contributing to their growth and productivity. However, volcanic soil may also contain high levels of certain elements, such as cadmium, which can be absorbed by cacao plants, potentially impacting the quality and safety of the end product.

Effect of Cadmium on Cacao Plantations

Research in southern Equador has shown that historical deposits of volcanic ashes and continental dusts can contribute to soil cadmium (Cd) accumulation, which in turn can affect the quality of cacao beans. High Cd contamination in Peruvian cacao beans have led to a reduction of export, contributing to income loss of 31% on average.

A group of silver objectsDescription automatically generated

In the case of Indonesia, further studies are needed to thoroughly comprehend the effect of volcanic soil to agricultural production, including cacao cultivation. A recent study on volcanic ash of Lokon volcano in North Sulawesi, Indonesia made no mention of cadmium accumulation in the soil. It is possible that the characteristic of Equador and Sulawesi volcanic soil may differ, as the presence of cadmium in volcanic soil can be vary due to a range of factors. For instance, cadmium can also contaminate soil through bird excrement, industrial pollutants, or other human activities as studied in Galapagos.

Nevertheless, the relationship between soil properties and cacao beans is highly complex. Soils, especially volcanic ones, contain myriad of minerals. So, what are the beneficial soil minerals for cacao plantations?

What nutrients do cacao trees need?

The main nutrients needed by cocoa plants are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Magnesium (Mg), Zinc (Zn), and Boron (B). Volcanic soil can contain many of these nutrients, making it still a great soil choice for cacao plantations.

Close-up of a gauge on a rusty surfaceDescription automatically generated

Effect of Volcanic Soil to Cacao Plants' Nutrients

The use of volcanic ash soil amendment has been shown to have potential for reducing iron and aluminum activity in soils, indicating the potential for soil renewal. Although iron and aluminium in soil can have positive impact on cacao plantations, high concentration of both metals can be detrimental to cacao plants.

When the soil is acidic, high concentration of iron and aluminium can be toxic to cacao plants. Hence, volcanic soil is a great remedy to this condition.

A mountain with smoke and fireDescription automatically generated

Moreover, volcanic ash-derived soils also affect boron adsorption and desorption. Boron is also an important nutrient for cacao trees, as aforementioned. Boron availability in volcanic soil can be influenced by various physico-chemical soil characteristics, including pH, organic matter content, and mineral composition. Boron deficiency often limits the yields of cacao plantations. However, high level of boron can cause toxicity to cacao plants.

Cacao Plantations Treatment

Overall, noting that volcanic soil has potential positive and negative impact to cacao plantation, farmers must rely on tree treatment as well. But, which treatment is the best?

A hand holding a handful of blue granulesDescription automatically generated

A study in South Sulawesi mentioned that after 20 months of treatment, it is evident that cacao trees receiving compost treatment yielded more than those treated with fertilizer or dolomite. Nevertheless, since soil conditions differ, even within Sulawesi Island, prior experiments on different areas might be necessary before deriving into a certain conclusion about which treatment is best for cacao plantations.

Genetic Diversity of Konawe and Luwu Cacao Beans

Genetic diversity plays a role, as the sources of Konawe cacao beans include hybrids produced in seed gardens operated by the Indonesian government, local selections made by Sulawesi farmers, and materials introduced by migrant workers from plantations in Malaysia. This indicates a diverse origin for Konawe cacao beans, which may contribute to their specific characteristics.

Criollo variety, has been found to contain predominant amounts of volatiles that contribute to fine flavor aroma, including floral and fruity notes. However, studies on Indonesian cacao bean varieties, including those from Luwu, are still limited, which suggests that further research is needed to fully understand the differences between these two types of cacao beans in Sulawesi.

Sumatra Cacao Plantations

In Sumatra, the largest cacao plantations are focused in Aceh, West Sumatra, and Lampung provinces.

Cacao Plantations in Aceh Province

In Aceh province, cacao plantations are widespread is Southeast Aceh, East Aceh, Pidie, Bireuen, North Aceh, Nagan Raya, and Pidie Jaya regions. The issues with Aceh cacao plantations are rejuvenation need and diseases prevention.

A large white building with black domes with Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in the backgroundDescription automatically generated

According to report in January 2024, cacao plantations in Aceh has reduced to half. Multiple causes, such as low commodity prices and plant diseases drive cacao farmers to plant other commodities instead. In order to increase cacao plantations' productivity, local government introduces rejuvenation efforts, especially to help cacao farmers who are mostly lacking funds to do so. One of which is to systematically cut unproductive cacao tree branches to retain humidity.

Cacao Plantations in West Sumatra

In West Sumatra, cacao plantations are found in Padang, Padang Pariaman, Mentawai, Pesisir Selatan, Solok, Solok Selatan, Sijunjung, Tanah Datar, Agam, Limapuluh Kota, Pasaman, Pasaman Barat, Dharmasraya, and Sawahlunto regions.

Some superior cacao varieties in West Sumatra includes TSH 858, ICS 60, and Scavina. These varieties are widely cultivated due to their ability to thrive in high humidity conditions of West Sumatra, averaging 80-85%, and being resistant to diseases caused by Phytophthora palmivora fungus.

A tower in the distanceDescription automatically generated

In 2015, Mr Edi Syafianto, a cacao farmer from West Sumatra, received an International Cocoa Award in Paris, France. Syafianto and Kelompok Tani Inovasi discovered BL50, a superior cacao bean variety named after his home district. BL50 can yield up to 4.5 ton/hectare per year, much higher than Sulawesi's MCC 01 and MCC 02. The variety is also considered one of top 50 best tasting cacao beans.

Despite the encouraging breakthrough, in 2020, cacao plantations in West Sumatra have reduced to half, just like in Aceh.

Challenges of Cacao Plantations in Sumatra

Low plantation productivity resulting from ineffective practices is a key challenge in Indonesian cacao plantation. As 96% of cacao plantations are smallholder plantations, with an average ownership of 1 hectare per farmer, cacao plantation practice standardization is a top issue.

Most cacao farmers still utilize traditional method and regular seeds, not superior ones. Acquiring superior seeds is a recurring problem for these farmers. Hence, their cacao plants are disease-prone and low yielding, causing farmers to switch commodities altogether.

A person in a straw hat holding straws in a fieldDescription automatically generated

Bali

Cacao plantations can be found in Bali, Indonesia, and there are several chocolate factories and eco-farms that offer tours and workshops for visitors. Pod Origin, Big Tree Farms, and Ubud Raw Chocolate are some of the chocolate producers that value sustainable and fair trade practices.

A stone gate with a couple of towersDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

The Pod Chocolate Factory and Café, for example, specializes in two types of chocolate, most of which are handmade from organic local produce. Visitors can take a tour of the factory and farm, attend chocolate-making workshops, and taste different chocolate and praline flavors.

Cau Factory & Farm is another place where visitors can see cacao trees and a chocolate factory. Although Bali is not a major cacao producer compared to other provinces in Indonesia, it has a growing artisanal chocolate industry that values sustainable and organic agricultural systems.

West Papua

Cocoa cultivation in West Papua, Indonesia, was introduced in the 1950s, and the region has since become a producer of cacao. The British Commonwealth Development Corporation established a 4,064 ha concession in Ransiki, in the northwest of the province, which covered around 1,785 Ha and produced over 2,000 tonnes of dried cocoa at its peak.

Men in traditional attire standing in front of a hutDescription automatically generated

However, following a combination of ownership changes and lack of fresh investments, the plantation had to be rehabilitated. The cooperative Ebier Suth (‘Unity to Arise') Cokran was established to support the sustainable growth of food commodities, including cacao, coffee, vanilla, various nuts, and seaweed.

The cooperative plans to rehabilitate approximately 1,000 Ha of the former plantation within the next 3-5 years. The Governor has also laid the foundation for a new small chocolate factory on the grounds of the cooperative, which will produce chocolate for the local Indonesian market. The cocoa varieties grown in West Papua include Trinitario and Forastero, and the fermentation style is wooden boxes, while the drying style is indirect sun-dried on raised beds.

Borneo

Cacao is an important commodity for East Borneo farmers. Several districts that cultivate cacao includes Berau, Kutai Timur, and Mahakam Ulu. However, productivity is still low at 550 kg/hectare in average.

A person in a traditional garmentDescription automatically generated

Although most cacao farmers in these regions still utilize traditional method, some farmers are able to cultivate cacao more efficiently. Some of the preferred superior seeds are MCC 02, Sulawesi 2, and Lindak. These superior seeds have higher yield rate and more disease-resistant, especially during rainy seasons.

Sumba

Smallholders' cacao plantations in Sumba mostly started after 2000. Corporate cacao plantations are also present in Sumba. Ghaura Chocolate, produced by PT Timor Mitra Niaga, was the first professionally managed cacao plantation in Sumba, established in 1990. The product won the Cocoa of Excellence Award in 2015.

A person walking a horse on a hillDescription automatically generated

Indonesian cocoa plantations contribute to the local economy and provide employment opportunities for the people in the region. With proper knowledge and plant management, cacao farmers can increase productivity and profitability of the commodity.

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