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THE WATER RELATIONS AND IRRIGATION REQUIREMENTS OF COCOA (THEOBROMA CACAO L.): A REVIEW

  • M. K. V. CARR (a1) and G. LOCKWOOD (a2)
Summary

The results of research into the water relations of cocoa are reviewed in the context of drought mitigation and irrigation need. Background information on the centres of production of the cocoa tree, and the role of water in crop development and growth processes, is followed by reviews of the effects of water stress on stomatal conductance, leaf water status and gas exchange, together with drought tolerance, crop water use and water productivity. Leaf and shoot growth occur in a series of flushes, which are synchronized by the start of the rains following a dry season (or an increase in temperature), alternating with periods of ‘dormancy’. Flowering is inhibited by water stress but synchronous flowering occurs soon after the dry season ends. Roots too grow in a rhythmic pattern similar to that of leaf flushes. Roots can reach depths of 1.5–2.0 m, but with a mass of roots in the top 0.2–0.4 m, and spread laterally >5 m from the stem. Stomata open in low light intensities and remain fully open in full sunlight in well-watered plants. Partial stomatal closure begins at a leaf water potential of about −1.5 MPa. Stomatal conductance is sensitive to dry air, declining as the saturation deficit increases from about 1.0 up to 3.5 kPa. Net photosynthesis and transpiration both consequently decline over a similar range of values. Little has been published on the actual water use of cocoa in the field. Measured ETc values equate to <2 mm d−1 only, whereas computed ETc rates of 3–6 mm d−1 in the rains and <2 mm d−1 in the dry season have also been reported. Despite its sensitivity to water stress, there is too a paucity of reliable, field-based published data of practical value on the yield responses of cocoa to drought or to irrigation. With the threat of climate change leading to less, or more erratic, rainfall in the tropics, uncertainty in yield forecasting as a result of water stress will increase. Social, technical and economic issues influencing the research agenda are discussed.

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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Pear Tree Cottage, Frog Lane, Ilmington, Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire, CV36 4LQ, UK. Email: mikecarr@cwms.org.uk
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