Innovation for Chocolate

This article by Myles Karp for the New York Times presents the results of over three decades of work by Dr Wilbert Phillips-Mora in Costa Rica, aimed at developing new varieties of cacao trees that are more naturally tolerant and productive. As explained in the piece, breeding hybrid cacao clones is a lengthy process, and there has not generally been much success worldwide. In contrast, in 2006, Dr. Phillips-Mora released his first batch of hybrid cacao varieties, which have been demonstrated to have significantly improved disease resistance and yields. They produce as much as three times more cacao than standard varieties, and, under certain conditions, as much as six times more. The objective of this effort has been, in the words of Dr Phillips-Mora, “to give the basic living conditions to the farmers. Most cacao farmers are very poor, because the system is based on material that doesn’t have good yielding capacity”. His hybrids – which have been developed through a process that prioritizes flavor as a key criterion for success - are now growing in all Central American countries, as well as in Mexico and Brazil.