THE DRYING AREAS
The roofs of the workers' houses serve as drying areas “barcaças” for the cocoa beans. The corrugated iron rooftop is mounted on rails and is therefore retractable, allowing the wooden floor underneath to be used as a drying area. At night and when it rains, the “barcaceiros” close the roofs.
House with retractable roof.
During the rainy season the windows are often protected with plastic or canvas sheets.
Dogs bask in the heat of the sun after the rain.
Manuel cleans the dried cocoa
Railed roof construction behind the houses
View of the back of the house with railed construction
Drying-roof without house attached
After fermentation the cocoa beans still contain about 60% water. The barcaceiros let the beans dry in the sun for about a week. In the rainy season they use a hot-air oven.
Since the cocoa beans are still soft and slippery right after fermentation, Manuel turns the beans at the beginning of the process, shuffling with his feet through the slippery ground. Manuel spends the whole day turning over the beans in this way. During the drying process the weight of the beans is reduced by more than half and their water content drops to about 5 to 7%.
Drying cocoa ('secar cacau')
If everything is done well - from selecting the right fruit (variety, maturity) to drying without mold growth - the result will be, as here, a high quality cocoa ('cacau fino') - the cocoa variety alone is not sufficient, even if advertising would have us believe it.
Dancing the beat of the drum,
exuding his wasteful aroma.”
TREADING ON THE BEANS
Narcísio - and this is no nickname - is another barcaçeiro. Before the beans are quite dry, Narcisio treads, barefoot, on the bean-piles with rhythmic movements. Previously, he pushes them into a small pile and moistens them slightly with water. Then he begins to tread rhythmically, moving in circles over the lower beans first and gradually reducing the pile. He does this for hours. It looks like a dance without music.
The friction and pressure of his “dance” cleanses the beans of any remaining fruit pulp and prevents the formation of mould which would otherwise form very quickly in the prevailing heat and humidity.
The beans are formed into smaller piles
"Dancing on the beans"
"... spread over the drying-roofs, the cocoa was drying in the sun. We were also
dancing and singing there. Our feet were already flat and our toes spread out.
After eight days, the cocoa beans were black and they smelled of chocolate."
(from: Jorge Amado, Cocoa)
THE COCOA BEAN
('A amêndoa de cacau')
During the drying process, the beans take on their brown to dark brown color and their delicious, chocolaty aroma is formed. At the same time they lose part of their bitter taste. Each bean is made up - among other ingredients - of fat (over 50%!), starch (7%), proteins (12%), theobromine and caffeine.
Drying cocoa beans
Longitudinal cross-section of a cocoa bean. The high proportion of fat can clearly be seen.
Cocoa Beans: a poster (poster "Amêndoas de Cacau")
Cocoa depot ('armazém do cacau'). The cocoa beans are stored in jute or plastic sacks
WORK IN THE FIELD: MAINTENANCE
('Trabalhos na roça – a manutenção')
Even if work officially begins at 7:00 clock in the morning, Osmundo is usually to be found from 6.30 a.m. on the main square of the farm, always busy doing something. Osmundo is one of the four supervisors ('fiscal') of the farm and and living proof of Brazilian diligence, punctuality and reliability.
He knows that good care and maintenance of the cocoa plantation is very labor intensive, but equally important for the productivity and the prevention of fungal diseases such as “Witches' Broom". I was able to accompany Osmundo doing most of his chores. “...you can't go back without having understood, photographed and written everything down”.
When mulching Osmundo places halved banana trunks around a cocoa tree. He explains: "Bananas have a huge water reservoir, which additionally irrigates the cocoa tree and also prevents troublesome growth of new grass. This is the raeson why this method is called 'cobertura-morta'. In addition, the banana stems protect the plant against insects and pests."
"Flies nest" ('Ninho de mosca')
Osmundo then cuts a banana trunk into slices and puts them around a cocoa tree. He calls this a “flies nest” ('ninho de mosca'). The effect is the same as with mulching, except that this method also attracts the tiny fly that pollinates the cocoa flowers: "It especially loves the stem of the banana plant. In this way we enhance the natural pollination, and thus the productivity of cocoa trees."
"Induction of root" ('indução de raiz')
Osmundo uses the machete with admirable precision. The piece of banana stem used for root induction fits perfectly. This measure helps a branch which was applied with the help of the raft-refining method (see below) to build its own roots faster into the ground. Osmundo presses the cut piece of the banana trunk under the newly-fledged branch. The new branch is now using the banana trunk to push its own roots faster in the ground. Once the new branch begins to bear fruits, the old tree will be cut down.
Root induction - an example of the results of this method
Osmundo plants a cocoa tree
When Osmundo plants new cocoa seedlings, he always selects cocoa varieties that are more resistant to the 'vassoura-de-bruxa' than other varieties. In addition, he fertilizes the earth beforehand, waters the new plant, adds a little mulch then declares: "If I want my son to turn out to be a good man, I must offer him the chance to learn all this from an early age. Don't you agree?"
Osmundo and his colleagues at the Fazenda Boa Sentença work intensively with the grafting method ('metodo de enxertia'). This activity is existential in the fight against fungal pests 'vassoura-de-bruxa' that hit the cocoa production in Brazil so hard. Osmundo replaces infested trees using this method. But other weak trees of low productivity are also replaced by healthier, more resilient varieties: "We simply attach a branch of another productive, healthy tree to the trunk of an infested or poorly producing tree."
Poster "Grafting Method" ('metodo de enxertia')
Osmundo carefully makes an incision in the stem of an infested tree and places a new healthy branch, cut to a wedge, into the cut. The new branch is kept firmly in place with a tightly bound plastic tape.
"We need to cover the new branch with a small plastic bag to create the necessary moisture and heat” he explains. Finally, he protects the joint from the strong, direct sun with a dead leaf. Otherwise the young, new branch would burn. The graft takes about 3 to 4 weeks to take.