Cacao provides an alternative to illicit production of coca for Colombian farmers

The researchers measured the susceptibility of 60 genetically diverse genotypes of cacao to Phytophthora palmivora — a major cacao pathogen with global importance — by first collecting leaf samples from cacao trees at the International Cocoa Collection (known as CATIE), in Turrialba, Costa Rica.  IMAGE: PENN STATE

The researchers measured the susceptibility of 60 genetically diverse genotypes of cacao to Phytophthora palmivora — a major cacao pathogen with global importance — by first collecting leaf samples from cacao trees at the International Cocoa Collection (known as CATIE), in Turrialba, Costa Rica. IMAGE: PENN STATE

Following 53 years of civil war, farmers in Colombia face the fallout of enduring rural violence and lawlessness which negatively impacted agricultural investments and growth. Illicit cultivation of crops such as coca (the plant used to produce cocaine) and marijuana had either been forced or proved to be the only option for many disadvantaged farmers during the conflict. For decades, the US and Colombian governments attempted to eradicate these crops by any means necessary, but with the end of hostilities a new opportunity to support legal agricultural development has become a central pillar of the cease-fire document.

Plant scientists at Penn State are collaborating with teams at Purdue University and University of Florida to provide a road map for post-conflict agricultural development that focuses on the production of cacao (used to make chocolate) as an alternative crop that is both profitable and sustainable. The Cacao for Peace initiative brings together this consortium of land-grant universities with technical and economic expertise from a number of governmental agencies from both countries as well as the United Nations. The contribution of Penn State scientists focuses on the genetics and cultivation of the historical cacao plant to improve and tailor varieties to Colombia and even identify which genes are responsible for disease resistance.

Cacao production in Colombia not only offers an environmentally sustainable livelihood for farmers. This alternative crop also promotes the social inclusion of rural minority groups. Currently, 35,000 cacao producers across Colombia cultivate 153,000 hectares of land. In 2015, total cacao production was around 54,000 metric tons, with an average productivity of only 420 kilos per hectare. There is potential to greatly increase both the area under cacao production and cacao productivity through institutional strengthening, cooperative research, and extension education at the center of the Cacao for Peace initiative.

Partners

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, US Agency for International Development, United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the Peace Corps, Corporación Colombiana de Investigación Agropecuaria (AGROSAVIA), the Colombian National Federation of Cocoa (Fedecacao), and Purdue University

Funding

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, US Agency for International Development, USDA NIFA

News

From coca to cacao: As Colombia emerges from 50 years of violence, Penn State experts promote a harvest of peace

Novel way to ID disease-resistance genes in chocolate-producing trees found

Thematic Area

Advanced Agricultural and Food Systems

Global Engagement

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Address

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University Park, PA 16802-2600

Office for Research and Graduate Education

Address

217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600