The roofed city: Protecting cocoa from an uncertain climate

Farrell, A. 2015

Edited by Dr. Marissa Moses and Dr. Lambert Motilal (Cocoa Research Centre, The UWI St. Augustine Campus) of a Paper presented at the International Fine Cocoa Innovation Centre Conference & Symposium, Trinidad and Tobago, March 23-24, 2015

At a time when climate change is on everyone’s lips, it is imperative that the cocoa industry ready itself for the future.

In the 1900s, Theodore Hildebrand and Son, a German chocolate company decided to get in on the future-telling business with an exotic marketing campaign. For a short time, they slipped the colourful cards depicting how life would be in the year 2000 into boxes of their sweets. In these whimsical cards they predicted how a range of activities would be upgraded for the 21st Century as seen in the reproduction below, depicting a roofed city where inclement weather would cease to affect the daily lives of citizens.[1]

Unfortunately, no such precise means of either controlling the weather or protecting against the weather has emerged since these cards were published. At a time when climate change is on everyone’s lips, it is imperative that the cocoa industry ready itself for the future.

This responsibility will fall in large part to plant scientists, to provide crops that are able to withstand climate extremes. For instance as part of project to assess the likely impacts of climate change on agriculture in the Caribbean region, Dr. Aidan Farrell in conjunction with the Cocoa Research Centre, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture has been investigating methods to evaluate cocoa varieties for resilience to drought and heat stress.

Currently, several methods ranging from simple visual assessment such as time to wilt; to the more technically challenging and expensive membrane and chlorophyll fluorescence tests have been assessed. Dr. Farrell and his team have evaluated a suite of methods using selected cacao varieties from three distinct genetic groups, which represent a portion of the genetic diversity of the species.

At this preliminary stage, photosynthetic performance, transpiration and leaf temperature along with visual assessments, show potential for identifying cocoa material tolerant to drought. Indeed from this screening exercise, one of the genetic groups tested with soil moisture at 10% of the optimum levels, was still able of performing at 90% of its optimum capacity. In addition, cocoa farmers should be cheered that all of the material tested so far showed good tolerance to heat stress.

We congratulate the scientists at the UWI for this ground breaking and timely research, and look forward to optimised protocols for the selection of varieties that are tolerant to drought.

[1](Daily mail (online) 2014. Amphibious ships, cycling on water and cities with ceilings: Vintage postcards reveal how Victorians predicted future of travel. Images found in Wikipedia commons)

  1. 1. Eitzinger A; Farrell A; Rhiney K; Carmona S; van Loosen I; and Taylor M (2015). Trinidad & Tobago: Assessing the impact of climate change on cocoa and tomato. CIAT Policy Brief No. 27. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia. 6 p