When we have genetic diversity in cocoa plants, we get more options. With greater biodiversity, we also get significant environmental benefits to cocoa farms. From a consumer and market perspective, this means greater quality and diversity of flavours. From a producers’ perspective, the more diversity in the system, the more resilient and productive that system becomes – for example, more resistance to pests and diseases, and better adaptation to climate change. WCF is partnering with Bioversity International to identify sources of heat and drought tolerance in the genetic diversity.
Diversity of crops and agroforestry in a system improves the chances of resiliency even further. With climate change now threatening cocoa trees, forests and shade trees can positively affect local climatic conditions by promoting cooler temperatures, keeping moisture in the air and the soil, and helping maintain soil fertility. Additionally, a diversity of tree species can create a friendly environment for birds and cocoa-pollinating insects while also hampering the spread of pests and disease.
We still have much to learn about cocoa, and we are still discovering new genetic profiles in cocoa trees growing in the wild in the Amazon forest. This is just one of the many reasons why it is so crucial that we protect this region from deforestation. In the Amazon Basin, cocoa agroforestry systems are also being used to restore deforested land. This contributes to the livelihoods of local farmers who grow cocoa as an income-generating crop, and it creates biodiversity corridors for local wildlife.
WCF works with Bioversity International to provide support for the long-term conservation of the only two international collections of cocoa genetic diversity – one managed by CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) in Costa Rica and the other by the Cocoa Research Centre in Trinidad and Tobago.