We gave COCOA to the World
by Vaneisa Baksh
(page 1 of 2)
The Cocoa Research Unit has had its university status changed and is now a campus centre, henceforth to be known as the Cocoa Research Centre (CRC). It is a fitting promotion, given that it marked its 50th anniversary this year as well. The Unit goes back a long way, if you consider its birth in 1930 as the Cocoa Research Scheme under the Imperial College of Agriculture, at what is now The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus.
It is custodian of the International Cocoa Genebank, Trinidad (ICG, T), and in that role, has focused on the conservation, characterisation (both morphological and molecular), evaluation, enhancement and use of the collection.
The collection consists of over 2400 varieties of cocoa planted in plots of 16 trees on 35 hectares of land. The CRC curates this collection and shares germplasm (and information regarding the varieties) with all cocoa producing countries through an intermediary quarantine facility at the University of Reading, UK.
It has also implemented a pre-breeding programme to accumulate genes for resistance to Black Pod and Witches’ Broom diseases in populations, which are also being transferred to world cocoa producers to support resistance breeding efforts.
The primary research focus of the Centre is to improve traits such as high yield potential, disease resistance, and quality characteristics.
Much of the work in these areas is funded through research projects with international commodity bodies such as the United Nations Common Fund for Commodities, Bioversity International and the World Cocoa Foundation.
Many of these projects include active cofinancing and counterpart contribution from within the chocolate industry. The CRC has supported research work in plant breeding, pathology, genetics and value addition. It works closely with several chocolate companies, such as Cadbury’s, Mars, Hershey’s, Lindt and Sprungli, Valrhona and Guittard, to address contemporary problems.
Of major significance is a current project which deals with cadmium bioaccumulation of cacao; aproblem that is beginning to affect the export of cocoa into Europe.
The CRC also collaborates with other research centres such as CIRAD (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Dévelopment, France) – three French researchers currently work at the Centre – and institutions (such as USDA-ARS, Stanford, University of Reading and University of Hamburg) along with other UWI departments.
Current research, for instance, focuses on genome-wide association studies, functional genomics and genomic selection. With renewed regional interest in cocoa, the CRC has revamped its support system to support local and regional research institutions and farmer organisations.