At this time of year Easter eggs fill supermarket shelves but pests, disease and now climate change mean that future generations could miss out on enjoying this chocolate treat.
Leading the world's fight to ensure the sustainability of cocoa production is the University of Reading. Pests and diseases already destroy about a third of potential cocoa production, and with climate change there will be a greater threat to future supplies of cocoa. With funds for a new five-year project to assess the threat climate change poses to cocoa, Reading is now in a unique position to examine all three main risks to the crop.
Cocoa production faces significant problems from increasing global temperatures and more varied rainfall. Using state-of-the-art greenhouses that simulate current and predicted climate conditions in cocoa growing regions, Reading researchers aim to help to develop new cocoa varieties better suited to likely future climates.
Cocoa is one of the most important sources of income for many countries in the humid tropics. Together, Ghana and The Ivory Coast produce nearly 70% of the world's supply. For Ghana, where cocoa is grown by smallholder farmers, cocoa accounts for over 40% of total export revenues and two million people are involved either directly or indirectly in its production.
Professor Paul Hadley, from the University of Reading School of Biological sciences, is leading the project. He said: "There is now a broad agreement that future climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gasses and deforestation is likely to lead to challenging climatic conditions for almost all crops. Particular challenges for tropical crops are likely to include less evenly distributed rainfall patterns and higher maximum temperatures.
"With little or no research being carried out on the effects of climate change on cocoa, the new project highlights the University's importance to the crop's future. Cocoa not only provides pleasure to millions across the globe by giving us chocolate, but is also vital to the economies of established cocoa growing countries in West Africa which supply the UK, as well as offering potential export earnings to countries new to cocoa growing such as Vietnam and Tanzania. Our project aims to devise long term strategies that will be required to breed new cocoa varieties which are better suited to climates likely to exist in the future."
This study highlights Reading's status as the leading expert on research into the sustainability of cocoa. The University is home to the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre (ICQC), which handles all international movement of cocoa breeding material and is the only facility of its kind in the world. ICQC is playing a pivotal role in stopping the spread of pests and disease on cocoa, whilst ensuring that research centres worldwide have access to new and interesting types of cocoa.
The University's International Cocoa Germplasm Database (ICGD) project was initiated in 1988 It allows cocoa breeders and researchers to find crucial information on cocoa material they are working with, not previously accessible. ICGD contains information on over 28,000 characterised trees such as disease resistance characteristics, and is at the forefront of this area for nearly all tropical tree crops.
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