Science and technology combining for key solutions for the global cocoa sector
This week has seen Cargill confirm a potentially gamechanging research project with US agricultural business Aerofarms, a specialist in vertical indoor farming, on cocoa research to assist creating more resilient strains of crops.
As we reported previously, Ghana and Ivory Coast, which account for nearly two thirds of all present supplies serving the confectionery sector, have had pressure placed on their farming operations.
While the overall volume of cocoa being grown continues to expand significantly around the world, the communities that are behind these vital operations are often some of the poorest nations on earth, so any additional research into improving crops to ensure their quality, as well as how environmentally responsibly they are farmed will clearly be of potential huge benefit for the industry as a whole.
Aerofarms (pictured with one of its latest agricultural crops), has so far conjured more than 550 plant varieties from its US facilities, so this is far from a ‘flash in the pan’ enterprise, so it will be intriguing to see if it can indeed translate its solutions for the cocoa sector. The results cannot come quickly enough.
Sadly, the harsh reality in West Africa is that as cocoa farming remains an almost exclusively smallholder activity in often rural locations, there remains significant work to be done in providing agricultural support to many of these communities, despite the best efforts of governments, civil society and the confectionery sector to do so.
In Ghana and Ivory Coast, there are also historic issues of inadequate land management leading to a notable degree of illegal farming operations due to ill-defined farming boundaries and established land rights that have hampered efforts to raise standards in agricultural practice.
So, if major corporations such as Cargill can apply themselves to developing ‘super strains’ of cocoa that can be rolled-out on a grand scale in core producing nations at comparatively affordable cost, then there is at least hope for the sector, which remains considerably under threat in terms of its future sustainability.
Clearly, science and technology do not have all the answers to significant problems facing agricultural communities, but it is encouraging to see that solutions that were once in the domain of science fiction are actually now becoming a potential reality on a global scale.
Neill Barston,editor, Confectionery Production