Ecuador has a unique, rich 400-year history of cocoa farming, and great strides are currently underway to enhance production and combat diseases in this country that together with Peru, features the most diverse cocoa genetic diversity in the world.
Mars Chocolate, in partnership with the INIAP – the national research institute of Ecuador – is investing in an innovative cocoa breeding program that will help develop more productive plants for Ecuadorian cocoa farmers and thanks to the learning developed there, the program will also provide important knowledge for cocoa research institutes in other countries. As part of this Sustainable Cocoa Initiative, we are working to develop and deliver disease-resistant, high-yielding cocoa planting materials. Just as important, we work with our partners on the ground to increase knowledge and create new research capabilities in Ecuador and other cocoa producing countries.
Strong, disease resistant cocoa plants are especially important in Ecuador, where cocoa plants have been hit hard by disease in the past. For example, diseases such as Moniliosis and Witches’ Broom destroyed 70 percent of Ecuador’s cocoa production in the early 1900’s, creating one of the greatest social and economic crises in the country’s history.
For the past ten years, Mars has been working in Ecuador to develop new cocoa varieties and better technology to help combat disease and produce higher yields. And our team is experiencing tremendous results on the ground in local farms.
La Victoria is a new farm featuring two cocoa varieties developed by INIAP with support from Mars Chocolate and the USDA. Although these new varieties are of a type of cocoa called Nacional (with fine chocolate aroma characteristics and different from a highly productive clone named CCN 51), these cocoa varieties build on the breakthroughs of former INIAP technician Homero Castro. Mr. Castro developed an enhanced cocoa variety called CCN-51 that is now used in 90 percent of all new plantings in Ecuador. CCN-51, which is produced in more than 350 cocoa nurseries, produces higher yields, larger pods and more disease resistant trees. CCN51 is being cultivated using a very intensive, high-tech, agronomic model. One of the objectives of INIAP, with support from MARS Chocolate and USDA, is to grow cocoa varieties of Nacional type (as those grown in La Victoria farm) but under an agronomic model similar to that used to cultivate CCN51.
In addition to these new cocoa varieties, which are outperforming CCN-51 in some areas and are nearly immune to Witches’ Broom, our team is working to ensure that better nutrients and fertilization are available – both of which has a significant impact on cocoa yields. We’re also fostering new cocoa planting under large public irrigation systems, as Ecuador is the main nation in the world where cocoa is irrigated by artificial systems.
With cocoa production and demand on the rise again – there are about 433,978 hectares currently in production – these new breakthroughs are especially promising for the country’s economy and for the industry’s future.