WELCOME TO THE COCOA CURE CENTER
The Cocoa Cure Center (CCC), Israel brings scientists specializing in various agricultural disciplines together to help develop synergetic and creative practical solutions to problems associated with growing cocoa.
Cocoa Cure Center (CCC), Israel
The idea for the CCC was born at the start of 2018, when Dr. Ellen Graber of Israel’s Volcani Institute, Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), learned that cacao is in danger of extinction due to climate change and other challenges. She recruited fellow Volcani scientists from a variety of disciplines and formed the CCC team, dedicated to “Saving Chocolate”. A generous start-up donation from a cacao-loving donor made it possible to establish the needed greenhouse infrastructure and embark on this new endeavor.
The fledgling CCC obtained its first cacao plants in Spring 2019. In Summer 2019, the Head of the Ghana Cocoa Board and his scientists visited and signed a Memorandum of Cooperation aimed at creating, transferring and applying solutions to problems in cacao growing. Despite a rocky start due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCC's new 800 m2 greenhouse was completed and occupied with dozens of plants by late July 2020. Many of these plants are in full bloom and heavy with fruit. The CCC has an additional 200 m2 of growing chambers, greenhouse, quarantine unit, and net house, and has expanded its collection to over 500 plants and 18 genetic lines.
The CCC and its scientists are proud to be part of the Volcani Institute, Israel's premier Agricultural Research Organization, now celebrating 100 years of agricultural innovation.
Our Current Focus
CACAO TREE NUTRITION AND WATER NEEDS
Controlled lysimeter experiment
Critical values for cacao leaf and soil nutrient composition to detect nutrient deficiencies are based on limited, outdated research. As a result, methods for deriving fertilizer recommendations based on soil and leaf analysis have not been developed. Moreover, there is a lack of information on actual cacao water use in the field. Thus, there is a paucity of reliable data quantifying yield and other benefits that could result from well-managed irrigation of cocoa in different locations. One of the methods by which such knowledge gaps can be overcome is through controlled lysimeter experiments. These enable direct measurement of plant water and nutrient uptake at high temporal resolution during successive growth stages.
GENETICS OF CACAO TREE ARCHITECTURE
The biggest proportion of cacao fruit and the largest pods develop on the primary trunk and thick fan branches of the first jorquette. Additional jorquette stages lead to a tall vertical growth habit that funnels important plant resources away from fruit production. The tall vertical tree structure requires frequent pruning to improve yield, decrease fungal disease pressure, and facilitate harvesting, sanitation and spraying. We are studying genetic controls over the jorquette process, an important step in cacao tree maturation before flowering and fruiting, and the single versus multiple jorquette tree architecture.
COCOA SWOLLEN SHOOT VIRUS SOLUTIONS
The Cocoa Swollen-Shoot Virus, CSSV, is a destructive viral pathogen in the important cocoa-growing regions of West Africa. A sudden and worrying increase in the spread of CSSV is threatening cacao production and the economies of the region. The virus is vectored by mealybugs, and within 3 to 5 years after infection, the disease kills the entire tree. The only recourse to CSSV is to cut down and remove the infected trees. We are developing a cross protection treatment against the aggressive CSSV virus based on modifications of the mild strain.
REPURPOSING WASTE TO ADD VALUE
Not Just Chocolate
Cocoa seeds make up only about 15-20% of the total pod mass. The empty cocoa pod husk generally is left behind to rot, where it acts as an inoculum for spreading fungal disease. We are looking for solutions for this waste that can add value to the farmers. Solutions being evaluated include making cocoa husk biochar-based adsorbents for water treatment, using cocoa husk biochar to elicit improvements in seedling health and soil intrinsic fertility, identifying nutritional, nutraceutical, and medicinal husk-derived products, and others.
POST HARVEST PROCESSING
Flavor and Storage
Desirable cacao varieties are expected to live up to an impossible array of numerous and varied excellence characteristics: high yield, large bean size and number, fine chocolate taste, resistance to diseases and pests, resilience to environmental stressors, convenient short tree architecture. While chocolate flavor is influenced by the genotype potential, it is also substantially affected by postharvest operations that transform the seeds into cocoa beans. Fermentation, the key process in this transformation, is currently done mainly by small holder farmers with little modern post-harvesting control. We are studying means of controlling the pod ripening process as a first step in industrializing post-harvest operations to achieve consistently excellent chocolate flavor regardless of genotype potential.
FIGHTING BIOTIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL STRESSES
Inducing Systemic Resistance and Detoxifying Soils
Cocoa trees are faced with heavy environmental and disease pressures from their earliest nursery stages. In these research efforts, we focus on biochar solutions for improving stress resilience and growth of the seedlings in nurseries and then afterwards, when planted out.