New project to improve Caribbean cocoa production

Cocoa tree, Dominica

Scientists from the University of Greenwich, in cooperation with the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the Jamaica Cocoa Board will be carrying out research on ways to increase cocoa production in the Caribbean by improving pollination rates:

The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) [at the University of Greenwich] is collaborating with the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the Jamaican Cocoa Board to maintain the rich biodiversity that supports improved cocoa production in the Caribbean, in particular the insect pollinator population. This work is part of an African Caribbean and Pacific Science and Technology Programme initiative for Sustainable Development.

Funded by the EU Development Fund to help build scientific capacity in the Caribbean, this €500,000, 3 year project aims to improve yields of the commercial crop cocoa for smallholder farmers in the region. Currently the only option for farmers to increase production is to increase the land they cultivate, but this is detrimental to the environment, and unworkable in the very limited landmass of the Caribbean Islands.

NRI, with a wealth of expertise in insect behaviour, chemical ecology and pollination biology, will be looking specifically at how the cocoa plants are naturally pollinated, an area of research that has previously been overlooked.

Scientists Steve Belmain, Phil Stevenson and Sarah Arnold at NRI will examine the behaviour of insects visiting the cocoa flowers, to determine which species are the most important. Evidence from studies done decades ago suggest midges carry out most of the pollination, but research is needed to help understand their importance, ensure their survival and identify other potential pollinators.

One of the goals of NRI’s involvement in this project is to understand how to artificially breed midges that will increase yields of cocoa, thereby increasing farmer incomes without the need to expand cocoa plantations.

Read more at the NRI website.