Cocoa Productivity and Quality Improvement

With cocoa demand up, yields down and a shortage of new land to farm, cocoa research is critical to improving African, Asian and S. American cocoa farmer livelihoods through higher-quality and more productive crops.

My team and I recently participated in and helped fund a significant global research initiative that spanned multiple continents. The effort involved a dozen participating countries, industry leaders like us, international NGOs such as the International Cocoa Organization and Bioversity International, and hundreds of local cocoa-producing farmers.

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The initiative, called Cocoa Productivity and Quality Improvement: a Participatory Approach, produced major advances in the development of new cocoa varieties and prompted new partnerships and global cocoa information exchange.  Central to it was a tailored approach to measure how these different cocoa varieties adapted and performed differently in climates and environments.

Mars helped to secure the funding for the initiative, which launched through Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), an intergovernmental financial institution made up of 106 countries within the framework of the United Nations to support research and development on various commodities.  It was a continuation of an earlier CFC initiative called “Cocoa Germplasm Utilization and Conservation: a Global Approach, which ran from 1998 to 2004.  During this time, we safely transplanted many South American wild cocoa species to various cocoa producing countries in Africa and Asia. The idea is to not only to preserve these critical wild cocoa plants before they disappear completely, but to try them out in different cocoa producing countries.

We built a lot of momentum after the first six years and launched the second initiative in 2004.  This initiative was founded on partnerships with local farmers, and we worked closely with them to analyze knowledge of planting materials, to select interesting cocoa trees for further testing, and to establish on-farm cocoa trial plots with different cocoa varieties. As part of the project, we surveyed 2,000 diverse African and South American farms in ten different countries and identified 1,500 cocoa trees for further study and follow-up.

Throughout the six year project, the project organized dozens of meetings in Africa and South America that discussed findings of different cocoa trials and stimulated new research.

So far the results have been promising.

  • We’ve created new and better methods of tree evaluation in cocoa research.
  • We’ve established 85 hectares of variety trials – some of which have been selected for commercial distribution to farmers.
  • New promising trials in Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea have been established for further study.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we’ve created an unprecedented level of international collaboration that will be the basis of vital research for years to come.

With cocoa production peaking in 2005 and 2006, research efforts like this are vital. Mars is proud to play the role of industry leader in these important initiatives, which mark a new and extraordinary investment into the future of cocoa breeding.

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