Harvesting the Cocoa
To harvest cocoa beans, the ripe pods must be removed from the trees.
Cocoa trees are fragile and farmers cannot climb the trees to reach the fruit without snapping branches or uprooting entire trees. Instead, cocoa farmers and family members reach the cocoa pods with long handled, mitten-shaped steel tools. These tools reach the highest pods and snip them without wounding the soft bark of the tree. They can also use machetes to remove pods growing closer to the ground.
The growing season in the tropics is continuous, due to rainfall that is evenly distributed through the year. As a result, ripe pods may be found on cocoa trees at any time. It takes a lot of experience to recognize which fruit is ready to be cut.
In most cocoa areas, the main harvest lasts several months. Another harvest – the mid-crop - lasts for several additional months. Changes in weather can dramatically affect harvest times, causing fluctuations from year to year, even on the same farm.
Once ripe, the pods are removed from the trees and fall to the ground. Gathering the harvest pods can be a family affair. The farmer, family members and neighboring farmers collect the pods in baskets and transport them to the edge of a field where the pod-breaking operation begins.
An experienced pod breaker takes one or two blows to split the shells with a hammer or other, similar instrument. A good breaker can open 500 pods an hour.
The husk and inner membrane of the pod is discarded, and a farmer can expect 20 to 50 cream-colored beans from a typical pod. Dried beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces, and approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate.
(Source: World Cocoa Foundation)