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CATIE protects cocoa collection which is a world treasure

  • Collection celebrates 75 years and is one of only two international collections of cocoa in the world public domain

At the headquarters of CATIE (Tropical Agricutural Research and Higher Education Center) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, the International Cocoa Collection is housed, which preserves 1200 varieties of cocoa accessible for research and for producers around the world.

According to Rolando Cerda, coordinator of CATIE's Perennial Crops and Agroforestry Unit, this collection is a world treasure of free access that conserves an important part of the genetic diversity that the species possesses in tropical America and in other continents.

"CATIE's collection is a potential source of clones with remarkable characteristics, such as resistance to pests and diseases, high polyphenol content, resistance to extreme conditions, low bearing, etc. Consequently, its conservation is a priority to solve many of the present and future problems that affect this crop," said Cerda.

Cerda said that the Center already has six new varieties of cocoa of high production, excellent quality and tolerance to monilia, which are being successfully disseminated among cocoa families in Central America and Mexico.

The collection also offers opportunities to produce differentiated chocolates of better quality, healthier and with innovative flavours, such as those that consumers are increasingly demanding. "Two of these new varieties were selected as cocoa of excellence at the Chocolate Show in Paris," said Cerda.

Since its creation, this collection has received financial support from institutions, projects and foundations such as the World Cocoa Foundation, USDA, Mars, Nestlé, Felchlin, Lindt & Sprüngli, Bioversity International, Earthcorp and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

Recently, the Maximizing Opportunities for Coffee and Cocoa in the Americas (MOCCA) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and led by Technoserve in partnership with Lutheran World Relief (LWR), has committed financial support for three years for the maintenance of cocoa collections.

"Supporting the maintenance of this collection, along with another collection in Trinidad and Tobago, and CATIE's breeding programs is crucial to achieving MOCCA's objectives of renewing and rehabilitating smallholder cocoa farms with reliable genetic material," said Luis Orozco Aguilar, LWR's deputy director of research and innovation for MOCCA. "We are working with national research bodies to catalogue existing varieties in national germplasm banks and with researchers and the private sector to facilitate the propagation of quality genetic material," he said.

According to Cerda, this support is really significant for CATIE as much more input from the global chocolate industry is always needed to ensure the success, use and conservation of cocoa collections.

This collection was declared by FAO as one of only two international cocoa collections and is now a central part of the global strategy for the conservation and use of cocoa genetic resources promoted by Bioversity International.


75 years of history and successes

Last September, the 75th anniversary of the International Cocoa Collection was celebrated in the CATIE facilities in order to learn about the history of the collection, its successes and its importance for the cocoa sector.

The event was attended by representatives of partner institutions such as Bioversity International from Italy and France; the World Cacao Foundation; the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica; research institutions such as INTA, Costa Rica; CIRAD, France; Agrosavia, Colombia; UESC, Brasil; and representatives of the MOCCA project of Lutheran World Relief; the University of Reading in England and the cocoa industry such as KoLFACI-Korea.

Wilbert Phillips-Mora, a former CATIE researcher, was also recognized at the ceremony for his 35 years of valuable contribution to CATIE's international collection and cocoa breeding program.

According to Cerda, this event not only celebrated the successful past and present of the collection, but also focused on the future of the collection. "Emphasis was placed on the need to have the support of the international community in the conservation of these valuable resources. Indeed, the support of all the actors of the cocoa sector is needed to ensure that the collection preserves in the long term the wide existing genetic diversity, which will serve to meet the challenges of productivity, resistance to new diseases, quality, adaptation to climate change so that future generations can continue to enjoy the drink of the gods," he said.


More information:

Rolando Cerda B., Ph.D.
Cocoa, Coffee and Agroforestry
Agriculture, Livestoci and Agroforestry Program
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Written by:

Cris Soto
Head of Communication
Information Technology and Communication

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