Tue. Apr 20th, 2021

Dark, milk, or somewhere in between, chocolate is a favorite treat all over the world. The Theobroma tree, the genus responsible for our cravings, thrives in shady, tropical regions. But cocoa trees are a finicky sort. Producing the rugby ball-shaped fruits rests on the pollination of a tiny, centimeter-sized flower. And in natural conditions, a scant number of flowers are pollinated by insect visitors. “I would say for the cocoa system, it is pretty normal that pollination of flowers is below 5 to 10%,” said Manuel Toledo-Hernández, an agroforester at Westlake University in China. Small-scale farms produce the majority of cocoa and provide a major source of income for people in West Africa, the Amazon region, and Indonesia. To boost cocoa yields, farmers have traditionally turned to mainstream farming practices, which includes fertilizing the trees and spraying with insecticides. But are these methods increasing cocoa yields? In a new study in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, led by Toledo-Hernández, researchers compared yields from agrochemical treatments to hand-pollination efforts on cocoa trees in Indonesia. The team found the painstaking, hands-on approach not only increased cocoa yields, but also led to a boost in farmer income, even after the cost of labor was factored in. Hand pollination of a cocoa flower carried out by student of Tadulako University in Palu, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Manuel Toledo-Hernández. Taking to the trees In conventional cocoa farming, fertilizers and insecticides are used to encourage more pollination, and therefore higher cocoa yields. But Toledo-Hernández and his colleagues…This article was originally published on Mongabay
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