The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Ben Tre, the country's largest cacao producer, should expand its coconut-cacao intercrop model to sustainably develop its cacao cultivation.

The model of growing cacao trees in coconut orchards can now bring farmers an additional 40 million VND (1,900 USD) per hectare every year, experts have said.

Ben Tre accounts for 7,300ha of the country's 19,500ha under cacao, according to the Plant Cultivation Department.

Its cacao trees are planted mostly in coconut orchards.

Speaking at a seminar in Ben Tre on November 6, Nguyen Nhu Hien, deputy head of the Plant Cultivation Department's Cacao Regulatory Committee, said global cacao demand through 2020 is estimated to exceed supply.

The price of fermented fry cacao beans is now high at 50,000-55,000 VND per kilogramme, he said.

However, when the price of cacao fell significantly a few months ago, many farmers in Ben Tre cut down cacao trees to grow citrus fruits like green-peel and pink-flesh grapefruit since they fetched higher prices.
As of July, more than 1,944ha of cacao were cut down.

Bui Bang Doan, who had 300 cacao trees in his 5,000sq.m coconut farm in Chau Thanh District's Phu An Hoa commune, said he recently cut them all down to grow green-peel and pink-flesh grapefruit.

Nguyen Quoc Bao, deputy secretary of the Ben Tre Party Committee, recently led an official group to inspect the situation of cacao cultivation in Giong Trom and Chau Thanh districts, which have the largest areas under the crop in the province.

Nguyen Tien Dung, who owns a 6,000sq.m cacao farm in An Khanh commune in Chau Thanh, told the visiting officials that he harvested 18 tonnes of cacao last year and sold them at a price of VND3,700 a kilo.

After deducting costs, he made a profit of VND50 million.

Farmers who grow cacao in coconut orchards and use proper farming techniques say the coconut-cacao intercrop model is lucrative.

Bao said farmers should not cut down cacao trees because of low prices.

The important thing is that farmers should use proper farming techniques to increase yields and their incomes, he said.

The price of cacao fruit is at 4,200-4,700 VND a kilo and yield a profit of VND1,400-1,900, he added.-VNA