Hope for International Collaboration on Cocao Diversity

On March 10th 2016 Source Trust attended a meeting of scientists and researchers from cocoa and chocolate companies, hosted by Bioversity International, to discuss the set-up of the proposed “Collaborative Framework for Cacao Evaluation” (CFCE).

Other Industry members present were Mars, Nestle, Mondelez, Cargill, CAOBISCO, WCF, and other Organisations USDA, SDA, CIRAD.

Under the auspices of CacaoNet ( The Global Network for Cacao Genetic Resources) the meeting was a very practical and open exchange of recommendations for the establishment of the Framework, and luckily phrases such as “… role of bioinformatics to adding value and moving to phenotyping, and then linking phenotyping with molecular characterisation…” were kept to a minimum.

The Reason for CFCE

The problem is clear. The need for improved cacao varieties is urgent.

Losses from pests and diseases alone are estimated to be as high as 40% of global annual production.  And we know that health & 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, critical to a sustainable cocoa sector and to improving farmers’ incomes, quality of life and securing the future of cocoa.  Cacao 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
  • Productivity and farmers’ livelihoods

The Current Situation

There are only two international 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.

Cacao is native to the Americas, which means that most of the crop’s genetic diversity will exist in that region. However, exchange has become progressively more restrictive. The policy and legal frameworks around ownership of the cacao diversity are complex and there are political issues of competitiveness and national interest. All countries are highly dependent on genes and varieties originating, conserved and evaluated in OTHER countries and regions.  The increasing difficulty of countries to freely inter-exchange cacao materials emphasizes the importance of the 2 international collections at CRC and CATIE and the ICQCR to form the basis for a global system that utilizes genetic diversity to support breeding programmes in cocoa-producing countries in West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.

What has been done so far?

Development of, and access to, improved planting materials for farm rehabilitation and productivity is a priority by the industry (Ref: CocoaAction – Work Stream 1: Substantially scale-up effective delivery of improved planting material to farmers).

In 2012, the Global Strategy for the Conservation and Use of Cacao Genetic Resources was finalised, a consultation process of many years involving the community of experts and investors in securing the  long-term future of the cocoa economy.

Also in 2012, the ICCO presented the Global Cocoa Agenda a roadmap for achieving world cocoa economy. This was discussed during the World Cocoa Conferences (2012 in Abidjan, 2014 in Amsterdam and May 2016 to be in the Dominican Republic).  In 2014, CocoaAction was launched as a strategy to bring the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies together to sustain the cocoa industry and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – the largest cocoa producing countries in the world.

There are clear benefits from international collaboration on increasing the value of cacao diversity and a global consortium approach to international evaluations, building on all previous and existing initiate is what is now proposed.

So What Can a new Framework do?

‘Framework’ usually means a structure under which lots of different people run around doing stuff, but in a coordinated way.

This coordination is key. 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:

The GOAL of the CFCE is impressive and realisable:

Increased sustainable cocoa productivity and quality by optimizing the use of cacao 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

In order to achieve this, quite a broad scope of support areas has been proposed as follows:

  • Support to understanding the diversity through characterisation and evaluation
  • Assessment and screening of the diversity currently in international and national collections
  • Develop trait identification methods and tools and to initiate breeding
  • Predictive characterisation – narrow the set and increase probability of finding traits of interest (Eg. FIGS and connecting eco-geographic analysis to genes).
  • Agreements to ensuring the exchange of critical diversity
  • Support to national evaluation
  • Facilitate access to information and knowledge about the full range of diversity
  • Disseminate tools , standards and methods to support screening and evaluation
  • Enhancing the use of the materials in the 2 International collections at CATIE and CRC/UWI
  • Support the safe movement of germplasm through the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre (ICQC) at Reading, UK
  • Germplasm enhancement – pre-breeding

Martin Gilmour, Cocoa Sustainability R&D Director, at Mars Global Chocolate notes “conserving, evaluating and sharing cacao genetic resources is going to be crucial for the cacao varieties of the future. Whether it’s diseases like CSSV or better adaption to changing environments, we can’t risk ignoring or losing these precious assets”

And of course they will not be doing this alone:

The Collaborative Framework will ensure strong links with the following key complementary initiatives:

  • Global Cacao Conservation and Use Strategy
  • CocoaAction – WCF
  • Global Cocoa Agenda – ICCO
  • Next phase of the Africa Cocoa Initiative (ACI) – WCF
  • Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and the work of CIAT on cocoa

Participants at the meeting also agreed that one of the more pressing, immediate, and globally recognised threats to cocoa production, and therefore justification for immediate action on evaluating and increasing diversity, was that presented by environmental change from climate and potential spread of disease. It was therefore agreed that, with the buy-in and backing of cocoa producing countries themselves, CFCE platform would adopt resilience to climate change as its core  priority, with the next stage being to work out specific goals and outcomes relevant to this focus.

Then WHO are the Beneficiaries ?

The direct beneficiaries are the 5-6 million smallholder farmers across tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America, who depend on cocoa for their livelihoods.

In addition, of course, are those directly involved in the development of improved planting materials for farmers.

It’s an important initiative and Source Trust supports it!


By the way, the lead scientist for the program at Bioversity, Brigitte Laliberte, is speaking at the ICCO conference in the Dominican Republic at the end of May.

Also see:

Bioversity International is a world leading research-for-development non-profit organization, working towards a world in which smallholder farming communities in developing countries are thriving and sustainable. Bioversity International’s purpose is to investigate the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity in order to achieve better nutrition, improve smallholders’ livelihoods and enhance agricultural sustainability. Bioversity International works with a global range of partners to maximize impact, to develop capacity and to ensure that all stakeholders have an effective voice. www.bioversityinternational.org

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