Cacao Variety Selection and Propagation – What are the 3 major variety of cacao?

Three main varieties of cacao have been identified. Their names are Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario (Minimal et al., 2019). The Forastero has a milder flavor than the Criollo but is the majority used for cocoa production in West Africa and worldwide. The Trinitario probably originated in Trinidad and was crossed with the Criollo and Forastero varieties (Somarriba & Lachenaud, 2013). The Criollo variety has the best chocolate flavor but is challenging to grow and susceptible to diseases and pests. Prolonged dry spells, droughts, and changing pest and disease dynamics threaten farmers’ future cocoa yields in many growing regions. Breeding new cocoa varieties with higher water use efficiency (WUE), higher yields, and resistance to diseases and pests could help address these issues. Still, the process is slow because significant barriers exist to developing and testing improved cocoa varieties. Higher and less susceptible yields could reduce the incentive for farmers to increase production by expanding their land.

Adoption of improved planting materials by smallholder farmers is more likely than other management practices because it is easy and farmers are familiar with crop selection. Farmers’ knowledge and participation in breeding programs can contribute to a more dynamic and successful cocoa planting material selection process (Aikpokpodion et al., 2003). Currently, seedling gardens and small-scale breeding programs, combined with other climate-smart cocoa practices, probably provide the best yield and income stability results. Hybridization between high-quality parents may also be a mechanism to increase resistance and yield (Nair, 2010).

Some scientists believe that breeding more resistant varieties is essential to increasing yields in the future (Vaast & Somarriba, 2014). Nevertheless, progress has been slow, and breeding programs have yet to deliver significant large-scale benefits to farmers. Efron et al. (2003) cite the focus on disease resistance, heterozygosity of parent-clone hybrids, and lack of application of best breeding practices as barriers to progress in breeding. In addition, training and access to inputs are needed to increase efficiency in using improved cocoa varieties (Eskes, 2017). Cocoa has low trait heritability, meaning that single-tree planting material selection is often inadequate (Eskes, 2017). An extra difficulty cocoa breeding programs face the existence of conflicting goals. Breeding has many priorities: Taste, environmental adaptation, tree shape, pod size, bean characteristics, etc.

There have been no significant improvements in cocoa breeds in recent decades, and more research is needed on resistance to disease and climate change (Nair, 2010). A common problem in evaluating cocoa outcomes is the analysis of varietal yields and resistance: field studies are land- and labor-intensive, especially when looking for long-term effects. Modern breeding techniques are relatively new to cocoa compared to other crops. Studies on cocoa varieties should be subject to certain standards and methods for resistance evaluation to make studies and varieties comparable (DuVal et al. 2017). Future breeding programs must also consider environmental changes, cocoa production systems, and agricultural practices. The availability of improved varieties through seed gardens should be increased, and more research on clone garden technology is needed. Establishing regional cocoa centers could promote the development of varieties for local conditions, and exchanging information between these centers would significantly accelerate progress (Efron et al., 2003).

How to propagate Cocoa

Many smallholder farmers may still use cocoa pod seeds to propagate their plants (1). However, as mentioned above, the lack of variety purity (a problem of seed propagation) is one of the major issues in cocoa cultivation and reduced yields. However, nowadays, like most tropical fruit trees, cocoa is propagated vegetatively (cloning). There are 2 main vegetative propagation methods suitable for cocoa: Patch budding and Softwood grafting (2). More specifically, the grafting of clonal varieties is becoming more common (Vaast & Somarriba, 2014) but requires farmer training in proper technique and access to improved varieties for grafting. Finally, pod inoculation has proven successful in Costa Rica and Ecuador in providing resistance to moniliasis (Eskes, 2017), but testing in other regions is needed. To learn more about the required steps and equipment needed for grafting, as well as the preparation of the rootstock and scion material, advise your local extension center (3).

Further reading

Cacao production: Challenges and Management Strategies
Cacao Variety Selection and Propagation
Cacao Soil requirements and Planting distances
Water needs and Irrigation of Cacao
Cacao Fertilization and Nutrient Requirements
Cacao Plant Protection – Major Stresses, Disease and Pest of Cacao
Cacao tree Pruning
Yield, Harvest, Handling and Storage of Cacao
Sales, Trading, and Shipping Cocoa Beans



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( Dohmen, et al. 2018)  Temperature changes, drought, and prolonged dry season affect the flavor and overall quality of the product

(Neilson, 2007) Unlike Farmers in West Africa, Cocoa farmers in Latin America tend to ferment the cocoa pulp surrounding the beans using wooden boxes. In Indonesia, farmers rarely take part in the fermentation process because their production is valued mostly for cocoa butter which is unaffected by fermentation


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