cocoa plants research greenhouse grow

As concerns about the sustainability of cocoa supplies and ‘the world running out of chocolate’ increasingly make headlines, a new cocoa research facility has opened in Reading that could help save the future of the crop.

At present, an estimated 30% of cocoa crops are lost to pests and disease each year. Supplies have also been hard hit by the Ebola outbreak this year, driving prices up by 18.5% year on year to £1,891/tonne [Mintec October 2014].

The new International Cocoa Quarantine Centre, opened in December and run by the University of Reading, is helping some 20 institutions boost global cocoa supply in order to meet soaring cocoa demand by developing disease and pest-resistant crops in a dedicated giant greenhouse.

“Our new centre is a crucial part of a process that ends with a chocolate bar being sold by a retailer,” says Dr Andrew Daymond, University of Reading research fellow and manager of the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre.

Although fears chocolate supplies could run out “are sensationalist,” Daymond warns growing demand for chocolate from China and India is putting additional pressure on supplies. “Things would get even harder for breeders and researchers without the new facility. We’re part of a process that is helping to ensure cocoa supply for the industry.”

One key way the centre plans to do this is through quarantining different cocoa varieties from around the world for two years to ensure they are clean before sending them on to cocoa breeding programmes. This should ensure breeders can get access to new improved cocoa varieties without running the risk of disease.

The new centre gets half its funding from the Cocoa Research Association, which is partially funded by confectionery companies.