Level: Novice

Reading Time: 7 minutes

What is your experience how the growers are treating their crops with toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and low quality chemical fertilizers? Like Avocados being one of the least sprayed and Tomatoes one of the most toxic sprayed. And must be eaten as organically grown.  Where do you place your Cacao Beans?

You have some organically grown beans, is that what I have to stick to?

I am going to start this off with a disclaimer.  You asked about my experience.  That is what I am going to answer.  There may or may not be conflicted information out there.  In 14 years doing this, this is what I have seen.

I have yet to meet or talk to a single cocoa farmer that uses pesticides or herbicides on their cocoa.  The almost universal response is that they simply cannot afford them or have no need of them.

There is a group that have been known to use two particular fungicides.  In this case it is copper hydroxide and a biological control fungus.  They are used specifically as an integrated treatment method for Witches broom.   

“A three-year field study was conducted in Bahia, Brazil to validate several strategies for management of witches' broom disease in cacao caused by Moniliophthora perniciosa. Treatments which were applied alone or in combination included applications of biological control fungus Trichoderma stromaticum, fungicide copper hydroxide and phytosanitary broom removal. When compared with untreated control treatments, higher pod yields and consistently lower pod losses were obtained by alternating fungicide with biocontrol application. Pod losses caused by witches' broom were also reduced by fungicide treatment or by phytosanitary broom removal when applied alone or in combination, however total pod production per tree was consistently low whenever broom removal was used as a management strategy.  While application of biocontrol fungus alone was not able to reduce witches' broom on pods, it reduced vegetative broom formation and also increased the number of pod-formingflower cushions. The present study indicates that alternating fungicide copper hydroxide with biocontrol fungus T. stromaticum without expensive phytosanitary broom removal is not only a better disease management strategy in Bahia but also results in better yields and thereby better net economic returns.”

You can read the entire publication here.

As for the “low quality” fertilizers, I am going to remove the value judgement and talk about chemical fertilizers.  And the answer is the same.  I’ve yet to hear of a single instance of use and the reason is again cost, availability and lack of infrastructure.  And need.  Time and again the response is to the effect that the trees don't need them if cared for well.

Then why aren’t more of them certified organic I can hear you asking.  Back again to cost and infrastructure.  Certification is expensive ($10-15K initially) and too many farmers are using cocoa as only one way to make a living.  The majority of Venezuelan beans are this way.  The farms are days travel from any city.  They are isolated, harvesting local trees and with no ability to add synthetic pesticide or herbicides if they wanted to.  Honduras is another.

Before I end this it is worth discussing pesticides,  methyl bromide,  and my years as an analytical chemist.

Methyl bromide is a highly toxic gas that is used to fumigate many crops that arrive to port.  That means that non-organic beans are almost universally gassed.  I specifically avoid the term sprayed as, again, it is a gas; a HIGHLY volatile gas.

Should you be concerned about it and residue on the beans?

I will give an emphatic no as my answer.  You asked about my personal experience and in this case I have specific knowledge.  Methyl bromide was one of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that I analyzed. 

When you do chemical analysis you have to keep certified standards of a known concentration around.  My methyl bromide standard was the bane of my existence.  Most other standardswere stable for months if not years.  They were dissolved in suitable solvents and kept at -20 C when not in use.  I was lucky If I could use my methyl bromide standard for more than 2 weeks.  It was that volatile and unstable.  I would open it to use it, and POOF, it started degrading.  So how would methyl bromide behave at room temperature without a stabilizing solvent?  I simply could not imagine a scenario where any residue would be left on cocoa beans that had been gassed.

Not to rest on that conviction though, I tested, multiple times, beans I knew for certain had been gassed.  The results were unsurprising.  I could find no residue down to 0.4 parts per million (as low as I could see).  That is another way of saying in 1 kg of beans, I could not find 0.4 mg of residue.  And that makes perfect sense as there was no solvent to keepit in place and it was at room temperature.

It is volatile.  It goes away.

I also analyzed for a host of herbicides and pesticides.  I never was able to find beans with confirmed spraying, so these were truly unknown samples.  From 12 different origins,  I never once found a single detectable amount of any herbicide or pesticide (totally about 50 different ones).  Conclusive?  No, but it is my experience.

So, do you need to avoid non-organic beans?  I adamantly say no.  I would never offer any product that I felt was not 100% safe to eat.