Andrew began his talk by introducing us to the major cocoa growing regions of the world in West Africa, South America and South-East Asia and explaining why demand for chocolate is currently increasing at a higher rate than supply. He showed us a cocoa tree sapling and then passed around samples of the flowers, pods and cocoa beans. It takes three years for a sapling to grow into a productive cocoa tree and about 6 months for the flowers to become mature cocoa pods
Andrew then described some of his work as the coordinator for the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre at the University of Reading where genetic material is received in the form of budwood and grafted onto a living sapling. The material is then grown in a controlled environment and undergoes extensive testing for pests and disease, particularly viral disease before being exported for use in crop breeding programmes.
The second half of Andrew’s talk focused on some of the threats to cocoa production including Black Pod Disease. He spoke about research he is undertaking to determine the reasons behind large variability in the yields of cocoa plants even within in relatively small areas.
The discussion that followed explored some of the issues surrounding the ownership of genetic resources. All the genetic material at the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre is in the public domain but there is other genetic material that some countries are reluctant to share.
To find out more about Andrew’s research and the work carried out in the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre, check out their webpages