Cocoa Research Section
The Cocoa Research Section of the Research Division in the Ministry of Food Production is located on the La Reunion Estate at Caroni North Bank Road, Centeno. The La Reunion Estate is comprised of 200 ha of commercial/research cocoa fields. It also houses a cocoa processing facility, which is perhaps the best example of an effective, ergonomic system for bean processing.
Cocoa research in Trinidad and Tobago emanated from a rich tradition of classical research conducted by famous scientists such as Dr. F. J. Pound and Dr V. Quesnel and WE Freeman in the 1940’s.
One of the major achievements of the section was the production of the Trinidad Selected Hybrids (popularly known as TSH cocoa varieties). These varieties show high resistance to disease, are early bearing, have a low pod index and display excellent fine or flavour characteristics. The TSH varieties are recognised internationally as the products of one of the most successful breeding programmes. It serves as a genetic base for current and future breeding activities.
Today the mandate of the Cocoa Research Section has broadened tremendously to include the co-ordination of industry activities in alignment with the Ministry’s Action Plan 2012-2015. Other key stakeholders involved in the execution of the Action Plan include the Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board (CCIB), the Cocoa Research Centre (CRC) UWI and Farming Groups and Associations.
Genetic Enhancement through breeding
The current breeding programme of the Section is focused on improving resistance to Blackpod Disease (BPD) and Witches Broom (WB) while further enhancing bean flavour and size. There are two major on-going trials at this time. These are:
- Improving the Blackpod disease resistance of the Trinidad Selected Hybrids (TSH)
A joint breeding project commenced with the Cocoa Research Centre (UWI) crossing selected progeny from CRC’s Germplasm Enhancement Project (GEP) showing high resistance to Blackpod disease in different mating schemes with selected commercial TSH types.
- Breeding of enhanced TSH varieties
From a highly segregated F1 population formed from crossing various TSH varieties with Parinari (PA) types. This F1 population was evaluated over 10 yrs and outstanding progenies are identified to create an F2 population for further selection of enhanced TSH clones for disease resistance, yield and flavour potential.
An application for Plant Breeders’ Rights for eleven cocoa varieties of the TSH 1300 series is currently with the Intellectual Property Office of the Ministry of Legal Affairs for consideration under the UPOV convention.
Germplasm Evaluation and Conservation
The research fields at the La Reunion Estate are comprised of a number of germplasm evaluation and conservation plots. Germplasm conserved include TSH material, farmers’ best accessions and genetic material from Costa Rica, Peru, French Guiana, Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil. These are organised into the following trials:
- Local Clone Trial (LCT) with twenty TSH clones,
- Local Clone Observation Plot (LCOP) with thirty-four clones.
- International Clone Trial (ICT) with twenty-one International clones
- Regional Variety Trial (RVT) with fifteen cocoa crosses from Latin American countries
- On Farm Cocoa Variety Trials at Biche and Gran Couva composed of 20 best farmers’ and 10 breeders selections
Farmers Selection Observation Plot (FSOP) with over 100 farmers’ selections
In addition to conservation, morphological characterization and flavour profiling of the TSH material is on-going.
Agronomy and Processing Trials
The objectives of agronomy trials are to optimize cocoa production systems, which can improve farm productivity (output) and profitability. The Section is managing the following trials:
Overgrown cocoa estates in Trinidad are very common. The objective of this replicated trial is to evaluate the effect of three different pruning heights (8, 10 and 12 feet) and two pruning intensities (light and heavy) on yield and disease incidence in 20 TSH varieties.
This is an on-going trial integrating ten TSH x TSH crosses with Columbian cedar plants in a hedgerow. The trial is evaluating an alternative system of cocoa production at 8’ x8’ spacing using Columbian Cedar as the permanent overhead shade planted at 16’ x 32’ spacing. This trial explores the income earning potential of the intercropped system.
These have been conducted to determine the appropriate rate of aboricide and application method needed to kill unwanted overhead permanent shade trees while minimizing damage to existing cocoa trees.
Best Cocoa Processing Trials
The Processing Facility demonstrates best fermenting practices using a system of cascading wooden fermentation boxes coupled with various systems of drying cocoa such as the use of LPG gas drying, assisted drying systems and natural sun drying.
Industry Development and Co-ordination
The section is vigourously promoting the organisation of cocoa farmers into clusters with the objective of increasing national productivity and increased profitability. It is targeted that over the next three years, twelve such clusters would be fully functional.
Each cluster will comprise a lead farm and surrounding satellite farms (15-20). The cluster will participate in targeted delivery programmes of education, training, infrastructure, product quality development, access to organised labour pools, certification, branding, farmers’ field schools, linkages to value add and other support services for streamlining of their cocoa business base towards improved productivity, quality, value add and profitability.
Action Plan Execution
In executing the MFP’s Action Plan the Section chairs and participates in a number of committees which seek to address the following issues:
- Management of Heavy Metals (Cadmium) in cocoa production
- The development of the local value add industry
- The development of improved drying facilities
- Adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
Provision of planting material to the Agricultural Services Division
In order to ensure that farmers obtain the best available varieties to establish their estates, The Cocoa Research Section collaborates with the Agricultural Services Division (ASD) by providing them with planting material for mass propagation and sale to farmers. This is done through the maintenance of seed and clonal gardens. Alternative systems of clonal propagation are also tested and recommended for commercial use.
Extension and Outreach
The Section is actively involved in collaborative extension and outreach programmes. Within the Cluster Project, farmers will learn best practices using discovery based learning (DBL) and Farmers Field Schools (FFS) methods. Technical consultation is provided to commercial cocoa farmers for establishment and management of estates.
The personnel of the Cocoa Research Section is comprised of 1 Agronomist, 3 Agricultural Officer 1 and a cadre of daily rated foremen, checkers, propagators, pollinators and skilled labourers.