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Cacao diversity: for smallholders, economies and gourmands

Cacao pods grown in Malaysia. Credit: Bioversity International/B.Sthapit

On 12 June at The World Cocoa Conference 2014 M. Ann Tutwiler, Director General of Bioversity International will lead a panel and raise awareness about protecting the diversity of cacao.

On 12 June at The World Cocoa Conference 2014 M. Ann Tutwiler, Director General of Bioversity International will lead a panel and raise awareness about protecting the diversity of cacao.

Chocolate producers, government representatives and researchers are flocking to Amsterdam this week to take part in The World Cocoa Conference 2014. M. Ann Tutwiler, Director General of Bioversity International will lead a panel on protecting the diversity of cacao, an important crop for smallholders, economies and gourmands.

The World Cocoa Conference 2014 is the International Cocoa Organization’s second event of its kind and will take place at the RAI Exhibition & Congress Centre in Amsterdam from 9-13 May 2014. Large cocoa manufacturers such as Mars Inc., Barry Callebaut and suppliers such as Cargill, as well as government ministers from cocoa producing and exporting nations will be attending.

M. Ann Tutwiler will attend the conference and lead a panel on 'Protecting the Diversity of Cacao', where she will raise awareness about the conservation and use of this crop.

The future of the world cocoa economy depends on the availability of a broad range of genetic diversity of cacao to breed for disease and pest resistance, for quality and for adaptation to local environments. In simple terms, cacao genetic diversity is key to growing a tastier and more resilient cacao bean.

90% of the global supply of cocoa comes from 5-6 million smallholder farmers across tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many farmers have limited access to improved planting material, resulting in their use of materials that are low-yielding or susceptible to loss from pests and diseases, extreme weather events and drought. Losses from pests and diseases alone are estimated to be around 30% to 40% of global annual production. Cacao diversity loss is linked to several causes that need to be urgently addressed: the loss of traditional varieties, and threats to material conserved in genebanks and field collections from natural disasters and extreme weather.

As cacao production is concentrated in some of the poorest parts of the world, securing higher and more sustainable yields can be a lifeline out of poverty for farm households and rural communities. According to the International Cocoa Organization, the annual value of the cocoa market in 2012 was US$ 8-10 billion, and developing economies such as India and China will require a rise of 25% on today’s production by 2020 to meet demand. At the same time, establishing market links for cacao diversity ensures its continued use, thereby conserving it for future generations. In addition, specialty cocoas, such as fine and flavour cocoas, can increase income options available to producing regions as it gives access to additional markets, linking consumers to cacao diversity.

The fine and flavor specialty chocolate, fair trade and organic chocolate market accounts for around 5% of today’s market share. Chocolate connoisseurs – much like those with a taste for fine wines – are willing to pay top dollar for specific cocoa flavors that result from a mix of variety, bean quality, geographical origin and growing and processing conditions.

Part of Bioversity International’s research focuses on fine-flavor cacao origins, within and beyond the Latin American centre of cacao diversity. In identifying and characterizing high quality cocoa origins, work has helped diversify cocoa markets, helping to boost cocoa livelihoods.

Bioversity International’s conservation of bananas and tree crops research area includes a focus on cacao genetic resources conservation and use. Bioversity International also coordinates CacaoNet - the Global Network for Cacao Genetic Resources, whose membership represents key cacao research institutes and organizations that support cacao research.

Follow The World Cocoa Conference 2014 on Twitter and use the #WorldCocoaConference hashtag when tweeting.

This work is integrated within the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Photo: Cacao pods grown in Malaysia. Credit: Bioversity International/B.Sthapit

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