A Brief History of American Cocoa Research Institute
ACRI was established in 1947 to study and develop ways and means of increasing cacao production. ACRI has been highly successful in fulfilling its original mission. The history of ACRI spans nearly half a century and is a rich mosaic of funding, education, training and cooperation.
The major goal of ACRI-sponsored research has historically been to ensure an adequate supply of low-cost, high quality cocoa for the chocolate manufacturers and for public consumption.
Over the years, ACRI has met and exceeded its goals in a number of ways. Research projects were selected that enabled ACRI to develop detailed criteria for future support. Much work and research have gone into disease and pest control, including studies on the Cocoa Pod Borer, Black Pod, Cushion Gall or Buba Disease, Ceratocystis-Xyleborus Wilt Complex, Witches' Broom, Costa Rican Leaf Disorder, insect and pesticide surveys, systemic insecticides, and other integrated pest-management programs.
Additionally, a vast body of work has been performed to improve the cacao product, including plant breeding, germplasm collection, pollination through insects, cacao pollen preservation, rapid propagation research, plant nutrition, development of improved cacao seed, cocoa been research, product safety and flavor research.
An international register of cacao cultivars was established to develop criteria for describing and differentiating cacao cultivars and breeding types, to describe those of actual or potential importance in the cacao-growing areas of the world, to assemble available horticultural and agronomic data on each cultivar, and to summarize and distribute this information for the guidance of cacao workers.
In order to improve productions and educate and train personnel in modern production methods, ACRI provided funding in 1947 to establish a cacao research and training center at Turrialba, Costa Rica. The Cacao Center at Turrialba was associated with the inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences, an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS). By the mid-1960s more than 200 students from Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Jamaica, Mexico, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and the United States had been trained at the Center.
In the mid-1950s, ACRI worked with major manufacturers of spray materials and obtained cooperation from John Deere in adapting their farm machinery to cocoa production.
In 1957, ACRI began funding two annual fellowships for Cacao research at the Tropical Experiment Station at Pichilingue, Ecuador. The goal was to increase the effectiveness of the technical staff at Pichilngue in developing, evaluating, and testing improved cacao plants for Ecuadorean growers and to help train more Ecuadoreans in the production of cacao.
In 1960, after negotiations with ACRI, the Goodyear Rubber Plantations Company agreed to devote 20 acres of good land on its Guatemalan rubber plantation to a cacao-rubber demonstration and experimental planting.
In the mid-1960s, ACRI started making an annual grant to support a technical advisor at CEPLAC (cocoa research center in Brazil), in order to assist that country's efforts to rehabilitate and improve the efficiency of its cacao production. An additional cacao research program was funded at the College of Agriculture of the University of West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.
During this entire period, ACRI participated in numerous cooperative activities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including establishing a cacao clonal collection and quarantine station in Puerto Rico, supplying cacao plants and advice to USDA for studies of day-length effects on seedlings, and assemblage of special disease-resistant clonal material, among others. Some key accomplishments during this time include:
Over the decades, ACRI's research program gradually became larger and more sophisticated. Disease control and the development of disease resistant cacao plants continued to be major research goals, and new programs began that were aimed at production improvements and the development of more efficient varieties.
- Determination of symptoms of mineral deficiencies, emphasizing importance of calcium and magnesium in cacao nutrition;
- Pioneered studies that related growth, flushing and fruiting to climate that aided in better understanding of Cherelle Wilt and cropping;
- Increased yields from zinc-containing sprays;
- Developed field techniques to measure stomatal behavior and moisture stresses in cacao trees and adapted to studies of water requirements and transpiration in sun and shade;
- Completed fertility level studies of some cacao soils by leaf and soil analysis' data later used as benchmark for work on cacao nutrition;
- Determination of phosphorus fixing capacity and needs for four main cacao soil in cooperation with the University of Costa Rica;
- Improved vegetative propagation methods studied and adapted to farmer use. Twenty new selections propagated because of high yield and/or disease-resistance and quality, as well as other clones and hybrids imported and screened; superior yield demonstrated in field tests of certain clones and cuttings
- Evaluated commercial fungicides on field scale for control of Black Pod under wide conditions - none surpassed Bordeaux mixture;
- Demonstrated transmissibility of greenpoint galls - three gall-resistant clones were found;
- Tested strains of Ceratocystic fimbriata for pathogencity on cacao;
- Assembled nearly 1,000 entries of germ plasm collection;
- Studied gamma-irradiated cacao material in the field;
- Developed new methods for storing and shipping cacao seeds, making it possible to preserve valuable seeds during transit.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, ACRI grants supported efforts carried out by CEPLAC in Brazil. Extensive studies showed that industrialization of cacao produced social benefits, and by the mid-1970s, CEPLAC unveiled a national program for the expansion of cacao cultivation that would triple production within 20 years, making Brazil one of the top cacao-producing countries in the world.
1980s to the Present
In the early years, existing cacao plantings consisted largely of primitive plant material, lacking resistance to diseases and pests, and of modest production capacity. Worldwide production of cacao beans, more subject to seasonal effects of weather, as well as diseases and pests, was about 900,000 tons per year in the late 1950s. Because of growing demand, research was needed to produce genetically superior plantings and to improve growing methods.
Partially through the efforts of ACRI and collaborations with other agencies, the world cacao crop reached more than 2,500,000 tons in the mid-1990s.
Grants and funds from ACRI have underwritten successful training programs at universities and centers in the U.S. and around the world. Additionally ACRI has supported many students over the years who conducted cacao-related research. Student fellowship research projects and scholarships are a part of ACRI's day to day efforts.
In 1981, ACRI participated in an expert working group appointed by the International Office of Cocoa and Chocolate (IOCC), set up to determine the most serious biological and environmental factors affecting cocoa production. Four major worldwide areas were identified:
Good progress has been made in several of these areas, but much still remains to be done.
- Germplasm and genetic conservation and evaluation
- Diseases, in particular Whites' Broom, Monilia and Black Pod
- Flowering and pod production and problems of inadequate pollination
- Development of a totally integrated production system
In light of heightened awareness levels on the part of consumers today, much research has been done and data dispensed by ACRI about the nutritional analysis of chocolate products. Continuing health research and nutrition education are a major ongoing part of ACRI's efforts.
ACRI's challenge in the future will be to focus fundamental research on issues for the 2lst century. For example:
Biotechnology - offers enormous potential as a powerful tool to develop cocoa with highly desirable characteristics
Disease and Pest Resistance -will continue to be a fundamental need for producers and users of cocoa.
Improved Cocoa Varieties - will be needed by farmers to improve growing efficiences, and by users to develop improved products.
Integrated Pest Management - will be the centerpiece of efforts to control cocoa pests; the challenge will be to control pests effectively with minimum pesticide use.
Sustainable Cocoa Growing - will likely become more prominent. The challenge will be to ensure an adequate and geographically diverse supply of cocoa grown by practices that integrate sound ecological, economic, and cultural practices.
Health Issues - continue to offer challenges in terms of gaining a full understanding of how chocolate fits into a healthy diet and is used by consumers.
The 21st century promises to be exciting and challenging for cocoa researchers who will use new technologies to find innovative solutions and realize the potential opportunities.