World researchers attending the 17th International Cocoa Research Conference in Yaounde are showcasing diverse research results on the breeding of cocoa for productivity, quality, disease and drought resistance.
They say if well used, the perennial problems of ageing plantations and producers, devastating effects of climate change, dwindling fortunes of producers, production and processing, could be a thing of the past.
In Cameroon, for instance, it emerged from the Yaounde confab that the country's research institutes (IRAD and CIRAD) collaboratively set up and implemented a participatory breeding programme since 2006, consisting in the assessment of cocoa varieties under cocoa farm conditions. Results show a need to focus on high-yielding cocoa progenies and the need to select progenies combining a high level of yield with tolerance to black pod disease.
Either through the presentation of the over 150 papers or display of already realised research results, experts are unanimous that the world cocoa economy depends on among others, the availability of genetic diversity and a sustainable use of broad genetic base to breed improved varieties and that the loss of cocoa genetic diversity increases the vulnerability of cocoa to adapt to changes in climate, new pests and diseases. Research results on the effects of organic and phosphate fertilizers on the growth of cocoa as well as the varieties of cocoa by hybridisation in cocoa producing countries are also on display.
According to Prof. Paul Hadley of the University of Reading, UK and President of the organising committee of the conference, very little work has been carried out so far on climate change, but in terms of pests and diseases, huge progress has been made. "All of these scientific tools will enable in the future to do more targeted research so that we should be able to find pests and disease resistance," he said. "This is probably the only time some researchers working in national institutes have an opportunity to travel and meet other researchers to discuss their results. So, the COPAL conference is absolutely vital in making sure that the research is publicised," Prof. Paul Hadley added.
After field visits Wednesday, discussions continued Thursday on protecting cocoa farms. This Friday, the participants will deliberate on technology transfer and quality, marketing and the efficiency of cocoa research. The conference ends this Saturday October 20.