Evaluating The Sustainability Of Crop Production Systems: Tree Crops

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Tree crops can be defined as groves of trees that are grown for food, cultural and/ or economic gain. They are commonly produced for their fruits or nut but can also be grown for timber production (Mission Resource Conservation District, 2018). There are benefits in using a tree crop system instead of a traditional annual agriculture method. Tree crop systems take numerous years to establish themselves, but once established the core of the work is in the maintenance and harvest. The most common perennial agricultural method of tree cropping is the growing of orchards which is the most successful form (Roberts, 2017).

The tree crop chosen to be discussed is Theobroma cacao L. , commonly known as cocoa, in Trinidad and Tobago. Tree crops are usually grown through vegetative propagation or sexual propagation. They are often grown in nurseries where the soil is rich and well drained. It is labour intensive and is beneficial for the nursery to be located near to the market. Once the seeds are sown they are cared for through nursery management. Some of the crops grown under this cropping system are cocoa, mango, pawpaw, oil palm, plantain, banana, coconut, kolanut, coffee, rubber, cashew, oranges (citrus), guava, and parkia (National Open University of Nigeria, 2016). Cocoa is planted as it is in demand, particularly for chocolate production. In Trinidad and Tobago two planting systems for cocoa production are used; low density inter-planted cultivation and high density pure stand cocoa cultivation.

On small farms it is common to find widely spaced cocoa trees intercropped with shade trees (Neptune and Jacque, 2006). Cocoa is usually planted on cleared forest land. This environment is advantageous for planting as it has ideal conditions; a positive microclimatic condition and good soil fertility (the absence of weeds, pests and diseases) (Herzog and Gotsch, 1998). Climatic requirements place cocoa production in tropical regions generally within 15° of the equator. Year round rainfall influences the regions being farmed as irrigation is rarely used. Cocoa is usually intercropped or planted under shade to create the ideal temperatures which are usually, minimums of 18-21°C and maximums of 30-32°C (Queensland Government, 2010). Tree Crop production is considered to be a sustainable practice. Sustainability refers to the use of today resources without compromising those resources for future generations. A tree crop system provides an array benefits; food harvested from trees, mulch produced from falling leaves and habitats for other organisms. It also contributes to oxygen production, act as natural windbreaks and contribute to the aesthetics of an area (Roberts, 2017).

Other environmental advantages would be the use of local and renewable resources, reduced groundwater and soil pollution and soil conservation (Afoakwa, 2016). Cocoa production also increases biodiversity (Franzen and Mulder, 2007). Several socio economic factors affect cocoa production. These include age, gender, marital status, education, labour, years of experience and land space. Studies showed that most farmers were middle aged and predominantly males. Majority of respondents were married and their wives had supportive roles in farm operations. A large number of farmers had a secondary school education which positively influenced their business. Studies also showed that majority of farmers were in cocoa production for 10+ years suggesting that production was a continuing occupation. Production was of small or medium scale and labour came mainly from the farmer’s family (Osarenren, 2014).

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