Chocolate’s Guardian Angels


Rows of potted cocoa plants from around the world. Before a cocoa variety from one country can be planted in the other, it first makes a pit stop here, at a quarantine center in rural England. Courtesy of Dr. Andrew J. Daymond

Chocoholics have plenty to celebrate in this age of chocolate renaissance. But also plenty to worry about. Conservation is the answer to some of those worries, and collective action is the mechanism by which some of the conservation must be carried out. This article, again from “the salt” thanks to National Public Radio (USA), gives us one example:

The Fate Of The World’s Chocolate Depends On This Spot In Rural England

Walk into a row of greenhouses in rural Britain, and a late English-winter day transforms to a swampy, humid tropical afternoon. You could be in Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa. Which is exactly how cocoa plants like it.

“It’s all right this time of year. It gets a bit hot later on in the summer,” says greenhouse technician Heather Lake as she fiddles with a tray of seedlings — a platter of delicate, spindly, baby cocoa plants.

Since she started working here at the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre, eating chocolate doesn’t feel the same.

“You certainly know all the work that goes into producing that chocolate bar, and all the potential threats that could be there in the future,” Lake says.

Those potential threats are the focus of this research center. Every cocoa tree that travels the world starts with a vacation here in the British countryside. The facility is part of the University of Reading, about 40 miles west of London. And a big chunk of the funding comes from America, via the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ruler of this little tropical kingdom is a cocoa researcher named Andrew Daymond. He oversees the 400 or so varieties of cocoa in these greenhouses. Asked if he has a favorite, he pauses.

“There are one or two varieties that have quite interesting-shaped pods on them. This one here, for example, has got a particularly large pod,” he says, crouching next to a papaya-shaped fruit the size of a cantaloupe.

The pods stick out of the tree trunk like something in a Dr. Seuss illustration. Inside the pods are beans, which are ground into cocoa.

Every plant in these greenhouses has some kind of special power. One might be resistant to a fungus. Another might produce lots of fruit. Cocoa producers all over the world want and need these plants. But, there are those potential threats.

A few years ago, one of these cocoa diseases hit Brazil. At the time, “Brazil was one of the world’s largest cocoa-producing countries,” says Laurent Pipitone of the International Cocoa Organization in London. “When this new disease came, it reduced their production by about half.”…

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