A greenhouse near London, the International Cocoa Quarantine Center (ICQC), is helping to ensure that cocoa crops globally remain disease-free and bountiful. The center's aim is to reduce the amount of disease affecting cocoa plants by quarantining them before sharing them with different countries to produce new, more resistant varieties.
The ICQC, which was set up 30 years ago, is situated in the village of Arborfield, west of London. The newly-revamped center is funded half by the British chocolate industry and half by the US government. It boasts around 1,000 square meters (10,760 square feet) of greenhouse space and 400 cocoa plant varieties. The plants are often collected in the wild on expeditions to the tropics on which researchers collect cuttings or seeds from disease-free samples. In Britain, which has no endemic pests or diseases affecting cocoa, the center can grow resistant varieties before dispatching them around the world.
At a time when changing tastes in emerging economies like China and India are fueling global demand for chocolate, the center acts as a vital resource for producer countries when pests or droughts strike crops. Andrew Daymond, manager of the ICQC, said, "That's where we come into play. We are the main hub for international movements of cocoa plants."
Even on a winter morning when the temperature is a chilly eight degrees Celsius outside, the temperature inside the greenhouse which simulates tropical conditions, the air is a balmy 23 degrees. A technician, Heather Lake said, "Cocoa plants are generally quite difficult plants to grow. They don't like too much sunlight, they don't like too much shade. It's quite difficult to get the climate correct."