Genetic Diversity and Cocoa Research in Trinidad

Mars Chocolate, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and the University of Reading recently concluded a rewarding research review trip to the Cocoa Research Unit of University of the West Indies in Trinidad.

Trinidad, once the third largest cocoa producing country in the world, is now a smaller cocoa producer. The island is home to the International Cocoa Genebank (ICG,T), a living collection of almost 3,000 varieties of cocoa trees. The genebank is the result of many collecting expeditions into the regions of South America where the cocoa tree originates.

Cocoa seed cannot be stored, which means that trees with potentially useful characteristics for the future of cocoa crops must be kept as living specimens. The Trinidad collection is located outside of the hurricane belt, so it’s a good place to grow and maintain potentially valuable cocoa trees. This collection in Trinidad, along with another major collection at CATIE in Costa Rica, makes up much of the genetic diversity of cocoa from the wild.

Cocoa research in Trinidad has been carried out since the 1930s, when the university was known as The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture and linked to Imperial College London. Mars, WCF and other companies have been supporting cocoa research at CRU Trinidad for many years. The collection of cocoa germplasm and the expertise at the Cocoa Research Unit offer a unique combination with the potential to tackle some the most pressing cocoa research – disease resistance, understanding quality characteristics, improving productivity, developing drought tolerant cocoa.

We’ll be working with CRU Trinidad to continue to characterize the cocoa varieties in the collection – understanding the different types and determining any duplicates or gaps in the collection. In addition, the work on screening for tolerance to Witches Broom disease is extremely useful to those countries that have the disease (and even those that don’t), and Trinidad regularly supplies new cocoa varieties to the world via the quarantine facility at the University of Reading.

In the future, we hope that new projects can be developed that examine the many different soil types in Trinidad to see how different varieties perform on these various soils.  Research results developed here can then help cocoa production in other countries by trying to match varieties to soil type.


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