The first steps have been taken towards a proposed ‘Collaborative Framework for Cacao Evaluation’ (CFCE) with a meeting attended by scientists and researchers from cocoa and chocolate companies, hosted by Bioversity International. Other industry members present at the meeting included Mars, Nestlé, Mondelez, Cargill, CAOBISCO, the World Cocoa Foundation, and organisations such as the US Department of Agriculture and CIRAD.
The main aim of the CFCE is to enhance sustainable cocoa production and the quality of cocoa grown by smallholders by optimizing the use of the genetic diversity in the development of improved, diverse and locally-adapted cocoa varieties through international collaboration, bringing together key players in the public and private sectors. The purpose of the initiative is to understand the value of cocoa diversity through research and characterisation and support global, regional and national evaluations. “The CFCE is about solving today’s problems in each producing region… and building a framework for global collaboration for the future,” say the project partners.
“The problem is clear. The need for improved varieties is urgent. Losses from pests and diseases alone are estimated to be as high as 40 per cent of global annual production. And we know that health and safety concerns will only increase, so residue levels and high heavy metal uptake are growing concerns. Climate change is impacting the current productivity and future areas of production. Improvements to productivity and plant resilience will only come from using a wide range of genetic diversity in breeding. They will need to be locally adapted for sustainable small holder production and meet the diverse needs of consumers. We simply cannot grow the same varieties everywhere.”
Development of improved cacao varieties requires the use of a wide range of genetic diversity, in order to ensure that cocoa production is sustainable and to improve farmers’ incomes, quality of life and secure the future of cocoa,” say those involved in the project. “Cocoa diversity is needed for regional and country specific breeding programmes; pest and disease resistance; quality attributes; capturing flavours; response to climate change; market differentiation; smallholder and intensive production systems; and productivity and to improve farmers’ livelihoods.”
As the project partners also note, currently there are only two international cocoa collections – one managed by the Cocoa Research Centre of the University of the West Indies (CRC/UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago and the other by the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Costa Rica. These two international collections have signed an international agreement to maintain for the long term and make available global collections of cacao genetic resources to any bona fide users. In addition, the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom (ICQCR) allows for the safe transfer of germplasm around the world.
“Coordination is the key,” they said. “It needs to be provided. Individual companies will continue to act independently but the framework will provide coordination, direction and a joint objective, providing focus and allowing international agencies to get on board in an aligned way.”
A first phase of five years from January 2017 to December 2021 has been proposed, with subsequent phases also of five years, addressing specific issues, building tools, methods and standards developed as part of the first phase of the project.
For more information about the CFCE see the forthcoming July 2016 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International.