The natural genetic variation that exists in cocoa may be exploited in order to breed new varieties that have 'built in' resistance to pests and diseases, higher yields and greater tolerance to environmental stresses.
The quarantine facility, hosted by the University of Reading, supports the continuing breeding efforts required to maintain sustainable cocoa production in the face of increasing pressures from pests and diseases, current low yields, and the uncertainties posed by global climate change, whilst addressing the increasing need for environmental and social responsibility.
With demand for cocoa products, especially chocolate, surging, there are growing concerns about supply within the global chocolate industry. This is compounded with the fact that over 30% of global cocoa production is lost through major pests and diseases.
An investment of nearly £1m, the new ICQC is a pivotal part of an international effort to improve the sustainability of the cocoa production by enabling scientists to exchange distinct genetic types ('genotypes') for use in their crop-breeding or research programmes, whilst minimising the risk of spreading devastating pests and diseases.
Since 1985, when a small collection of cocoa was received from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, many clones have passed through the facility and many shipments made. Most of these have been received from the International Genebanks in Trinidad (CRC) and Costa Rica (CATIE) , but material has also been received from the wild and National collections.
After two years in quarantine, clean and safe cocoa cuttings are shipped from Reading to some 20 different cocoa-producing countries. These can then be incorporated into breeding programmes to create new varieties with higher yields and greater pest and disease resistance. Research is underway to improve and accelerate the quarantine process using new technologies.