With three months under my belt at the helm of the World Cocoa Foundation and having just wrapped up our largest ever partnership meeting in Abidjan, it’s a perfect time to take stock of where we are on our global and regional research agenda and what the next generation of cocoa research will require.
I believe that the cocoa sector is at an inflection point. We face a unique opportunity to deepen our efforts to build a sustainable supply chain where farmers lives are improved, the environment is better protected, and all participants prosper and grow.
To get there, we need three things from research: 1) investments in our global cocoa collections; 2) new varieties that are higher yielding and tolerant to pests, disease and the adverse impacts of climate change; and 3) a deeper understanding of the socio-economic and household behaviors in cocoa growing areas that create sustainable livelihoods and communities.
Last month, WCF hosted a meeting with leaders of the cocoa sectors in five West and Central African countries to discuss the need for a regional plan to confront head on the threat of Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus, a viral disease likened to the HIV/AID of cocoa, easily spread with infected material and silent killer of the cocoa tree.
What we heard was a clarion call to action, to move research results and known solutions, imperfect as they might be, to the farmer fields to catalyze renovation and rehabilitation of cocoa farms, which is the single biggest constraint to greater profitability and ultimately sustainability in sector.
These challenges are greater than any one scientist, company, institution, donor, country, or even region. By working together and aligning on a common research agenda, we can achieve lasting change in the cocoa sector and develop practical solutions to problems that have plagued the sector for decades (such as CSSV), as well as emerging challenges (such as climate change).
With support from the African Cocoa Initiative project with the US Government’s Feed the Future initiative and cocoa/chocolate industry, WCF is proud to co-sponsor a regional symposium entitled, “Next Generation Cocoa Research for West and Central Africa”, which takes place in Ibadan, Nigeria this week. Along with our co-hosts, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), we look forward to a rich dialogue on how to advance collaboration on and investment in critical research issues facing the region.
Our support for the symposium springs from a belief we have in strengthening research networks, assisting producing-country institutions and furthering the professional development of scientists. We provide support to the work of cocoa breeders’ groups in all three growing regions (Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas), actively participate in CacaoNet, and facilitate networking and information sharing opportunities such as this week’s symposium.
WCF has a long history of engagement with national research institutes and universities in producing countries and believe that these institutions play a critical role in delivering research that meets local needs. Strengthening networks and working with local institutions is an important part of our CocoaAction strategy.
The next generation of cocoa research requires the next generation of cocoa researchers. Supporting the professional growth and development of early to mid-career scientists, particularly in producing-countries, is essential. WCF has been honored to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Foreign Agricultural Service on the Cocoa Borlaug Fellowship Program for nearly ten years. Together we have supported fellowships for approximately 40 researchers from producing countries.
From its inception, the goals of CocoaAction, industry’s new strategy to address cocoa sustainability in West Africa, have included reviewing and sharing best practices and programs across the cocoa industry to help develop impactful farmer productivity and community development solutions for farmers and their families. Planting material plays a critical role in improving productivity and has long been a focus of WCF’s engagement on cocoa research – from support for conservation of genetic resources to propagation and distribution of improved varieties in the field.
More recently, WCF has started an initiative on climate change, thanks also to a new partnership with Feed the Future,- working with the private sector to develop a strategy for investment in climate smart cocoa, development of climate-adapted varieties and identification of appropriate good agricultural practices.
And, let’s not forget the importance of socio-economic research that improves our understanding of the complex challenges facing the cocoa sector. Addressing issues such as land tenure, profitability of farming and effective extension practices are also critical. These are just some of the topics that will be addressed at this week’s symposium.
We hope that the symposium will serve as a catalyst for greater regional and international knowledge sharing and cooperation to address critical issues facing the sector. And I challenge the researchers at the Symposium to demonstrate the means by which research results get into the fields of farmers so that our cocoa sector, companies, and farmers flourish.
We look forward to fruitful discussions, and will share key outcomes in a future posting.