Pods containing cocoa beans grow from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree. Harvesting involves removing ripe pods from the trees and opening them to extract the wet beans.
Pods are suitable for harvest for 3 to 4 weeks, after which time the beans begin to germinate. It is therefore necessary to harvest at regular intervals as the pods do not all ripen at the same time. The frequency of harvesting can have an effect on yield.
The pods are harvested manually by making a clean cut through the stalk with a well sharpened blade. For pods high on the tree, a pruning hook type of tool can be used with a handle on the end of a long pole. By pushing or pulling according to the position of the fruit, the upper and lower blades of the tool enable the stalk to be cut cleanly without damaging the branch which bears it.
During harvesting it is important not to damage the flower cushion which will produce the flowers and fruits of subsequent harvests, and care must be taken not to damage the tree, which would make it easy for parasitic fungi to penetrate the tissues of the tree.
The pods are opened to remove the beans within a week to 10 days after harvesting. In general the harvested pods are grouped together and split either in or at the edge of the plantation. Sometimes the pods are transported to a fermentary before splitting. If the pods are opened in the planting areas the discarded husks can be distributed throughout the fields to return nutrients to the soil. The best way of opening the pods is to use a wooden club which, if it strikes the central area of the pod, causes it to split into two halves; it is then easy to remove by hand the beans. A cutting tool, such as a machete, is often used to split the pod though this can damage the beans. Some machinery has been developed for pod opening but smallholders in general carry out the process manually.
After extraction from the pod, the beans undergo a fermentation and drying process before being bagged for delivery.
Wood, G.A.R. and Lass, R.A., Cocoa. Longman, 4th edition, 1985
Mossu, G. Cocoa. CTA/Macmillan Press, 1992
Dand, R. The International Cocoa Trade. Woodhead Publishing, 1993