Although fruits mature throughout the year, usually two harvests are made: the main crop and the intermediary crop (also called mid-crop). The mid crop is usually much smaller than the main crop, however the relative size varies according to the country.
From fertilization to harvesting the fruit requires 5 to 6 months. Harvest season lasts about 5 months. Harvesting cocoa consists of cutting the ripe pods from the trees, breaking the open (mostly with a machete) and extracting the seeds from the pods. These seeds are then allowed to ferment from 2 to 8 days before drying in the sun. Beans are then bagged and shipped.
Cocoa is typically produced through smallholder or family subsistance farming. However, plantations and large farms can be found in Malaysia and Brazil. Cocoa is planted in rows, spaced at approxomately 3 meters, giving a plant density of around 950 to 1330 trees/ha depending on soil fertility and climate.
Temporary and permanent shade trees should be planted 6 to 9 months before the year when cocoa will be planted. Cocoa planting should be carried out in the first half of the rainy season giving it enough time to establish before the next dry season. Although cocoa is mature 24 months after the initial planting, cocoa trees become productive approximately five years after planting. Yields peak at the eighth or tenth year, but acceptable yields are produced for several decades. Traditional trees yield between 300 and 500 kg/h per year, under normal circumstances. Hybrids present higher yields, above 1000 kg/h.
Weather conditions and diseases are the main factors affecting production. It has been estimated that up to 30% of world production is lost due to diseases. Among the most common diseases affecting cocoa we have the black pod, witches' broom and swollen shoot virus.