In the 1980s, Bahia, Brazil was one of the largest cocoa producers in the world, producing over 300,000 tons per year. However, in 1989, a fungal disease, called “Witches’ Broom”, ravaged the area and in 3 years total yearly production would be down by over 30%.
This fungus devastated Bahia—leaving 200,000 people unemployed, there was social unrest and a destroyed economy. For the next 20 years the region would struggle to recover. While today the cocoa industry does still make up 60% of the economy, the yields are extremely low, with only 300 kilos being produced per hectare, which is below the global average. A region that was once the world’s 2nd largest producer of cocoa is now ranked 5th, producing only 4.8% of the world’s cocoa. Clearly, the area has not fully recovered.
As the Science Director for the Mars Center for Cocoa Science (http://www.marscacau.com), my team is currently working to strengthen the collaborative efforts between the network of influencers in the cocoa industry and in the community of Bahia, including officials in the private and public sectors, to help Bahia to continue its economic and social recovery.
2. Improve community of Bahia by building schools and health centers
3.Developing better cocoa varieties that are more productive and more resistant, that still have a rich flavor
As can be expected, we have encountered a few challenges on our path to achieving the above mentioned goals. Namely, the first hurdle is convincing farmers that they can achieve higher yields and protect the rainforest’s ecosystem. Brazil has a vibrant rainforest ecosystem and it is one that needs protection from deforestation.
There is one very important milestone that I would like to mention. This recovery project in Bahia, namely Barro Preto Project is being recognized at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), held during the 2nd week in June in Rio de Janero. The United Nations has selected 4 cases of sustainability in Brazil, and we are one of the four. The New York Film Academy has produced a documentary detailing the project; this will be an excellent opportunity to illustrate the work we are doing in Bahia.
My team sees the great potential that Bahia has and we are optimistic that we will achieve our goals. There is certainly a lot of work to be done, but we know that the people of Bahia support our efforts and we are confident that through collaboration we will see success.