A toast to cocoa diversity

A toast to cocoa diversity

In celebration of the International Day of Biological Diversity, we invited Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation, a Bioversity International partner, to share his thoughts on the challenges facing the cocoa value chain, from cocoa producers to consumers, and explain how the private sector can support the use of greater cocoa diversity to help meet those challenges.


On the 2018 International Day of Biological Diversity, the world celebrates all biodiversity including agricultural biodiversity. The day celebrates the diversity of all animals, trees, crops and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including cocoa – the crop behind the world’s favourite treat, chocolate. Cocoa is a source of income for the estimated 50 million people globally that depend on it for their livelihoods. Yet cocoa production is facing a growing threat from drought and heat, exacerbated by the changing climate as well as devastating pests and diseases.

Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF)*, a Bioversity International partner, shares his thoughts on the challenges facing the cocoa value chain, from cocoa producers to consumers, and explains how the private sector can support the use of greater cocoa diversity to help meet those challenges.

Why cocoa diversity matters

When we have genetic diversity in cocoa plants, we get more options. With greater biodiversity, we also get significant environmental benefits to cocoa farms. From a consumer and market perspective, this means greater quality and diversity of flavours. From a producers’ perspective, the more diversity in the system, the more resilient and productive that system becomes – for example, more resistance to pests and diseases, and better adaptation to climate change. WCF is partnering with Bioversity International to identify sources of heat and drought tolerance in the genetic diversity.

Diversity of crops and agroforestry in a system improves the chances of resiliency even further. With climate change now threatening cocoa trees, forests and shade trees can positively affect local climatic conditions by promoting cooler temperatures, keeping moisture in the air and the soil, and helping maintain soil fertility. Additionally, a diversity of tree species can create a friendly environment for birds and cocoa-pollinating insects while also hampering the spread of pests and disease.

We still have much to learn about cocoa, and we are still discovering new genetic profiles in cocoa trees growing in the wild in the Amazon forest. This is just one of the many reasons why it is so crucial that we protect this region from deforestation. In the Amazon Basin, cocoa agroforestry systems are also being used to restore deforested land. This contributes to the livelihoods of local farmers who grow cocoa as an income-generating crop, and it creates biodiversity corridors for local wildlife.

WCF works with Bioversity International to provide support for the long-term conservation of the only two international collections of cocoa genetic diversity – one managed by CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) in Costa Rica and the other by the Cocoa Research Centre in Trinidad and Tobago.

The need for diverse quality planting materials

More also needs to be done to help farmers improve their productivity and increase their incomes. Ageing and less productive cocoa farms are a serious problem. Often, farmers have limited access to improved planting material, resulting in their use of low-yielding varieties or in being susceptible to loss from pests and diseases and from erratic climates. With improved planting materials, professional farming techniques, and sustainable soil fertility management, cocoa productivity can be increased and farmers can make a better living and cope with climate change.

To address this, WCF, which has over 100 members from the cocoa industry, has advocated for an adequate supply of quality planting material. For example, in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, WCF has supported the establishment of cocoa seedling nurseries that have improved the overall supply of planting material. WCF is also working with farmers, through its member companies and development partners, to encourage farm rehabilitation with the adoption of improved varieties.

The need to diversify income streams

WCF members are increasingly aware of the need for cocoa farmers to diversify not just their cocoa, but also their incomes, particularly through the development of mixed agroforestry systems, inter-cropping, and other income-generating activities.

The rise of the demand for fine flavour cocoa is also an incentive for cocoa and chocolate companies to preserve the genetic diversity of cocoa trees themselves.  

As farmers plant diverse varieties of cocoa trees, the industry is encouraged to invest in cocoa diversity to cater to the chocolate trends of the future.

Celebrating the International Day of Biological Diversity

Today, on 22 May, the International Day of Biological Diversity, WCF joins Bioversity International to celebrate with the Convention on Biological Diversity, 25 years of global action. We take this opportunity to remind ourselves and our members of the important role biodiversity plays in environmental sustainability in the cocoa sector and beyond. 

So, let us raise our glasses - of chocolate milk - and toast to an even greater diversity of cocoa!


*The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) is a non-profit international membership organization whose vision is a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector. Its 100+ members of chocolate and cocoa companies collectively represent more than 80% of the global sector. As President, Richard Scobey leads the strategic development of the organization, serves as the primary spokesperson on behalf of member companies, and leads the direction of the cocoa and chocolate industry on sustainability priorities.