A long article in the Financial Times a few days ago described the woes of the Ivorian cacao industry. Fundamentally, it’s down to old, and therefore increasingly sick and unproductive, trees. And the quantity squeeze is forcing farmers to compromise on quality.
All this is important because Ivory Coast accounts for 39% of the world’s cacao production. A “chocolate crisis” is looming. And companies like Nestlé are worried. They employ a small army of agronomists, breeders and extensionists just to guarantee their supply of raw materials.
Hence their “Cocoa Plan” to replant 12 million trees (out of a total of 2 billion in the country) over the next decade at a cost of almost $100 million. A monumental task for a crop grown by hundreds of thousands of smallholders. The article does not go into detail on the varieties that are being used in the replanting, beyond saying that they are not GMOs and that the plantlets
…have already been nicknamed “Mercedes” for their supposedly upmarket quality. “They grow very, very quickly,” says Jebouet Kouassi, a 43-year-old who runs one of Nestlé’s nurseries in Ivory Coast.
The seedlings will be produced from high-yield and resistant varieties by somatic embryogenesis, which produce replicas of high performance cocoa trees, with high yield and high resistance to disease.
I hope that the narrowing of genetic diversity that this approach seems to imply will not store up problems for the future.