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MAY 2023 - Manu's new paper shows that hand pollination can triple cocoa yields in Brazil

Agricultural diversification can enhance climate resilience, biodiversity conservation, and livelihood in global farming systems. Diverse agroforestry systems with cocoa have been shown to provide all these benefits, but the often-lower yields compared to monocultures limit agroforestry adoption by smallholder farmers.

Cocoa yield is pollination-limited, and here, we quantified the effect of hand pollination in cocoa on fruit set, fruit abortion or cherelle wilt, pest and diseases, and number of mature fruits. Experiments were conducted in Bahia, Brazil, along a shade gradient from low [10–30%] to high [70–100%] canopy cover and with cocoa trees grafted with high-yielding varieties. We found on average 331% fruit set, and 300% mature fruit increase (i.e. ripe pods) per tree by enhancing pollination by hand as little as 10% of the flowers/tree, compared to the control (i.e. with only natural pollination). When comparing efforts invested in hand pollination, minimum labor of ∼5–15 min/tree hand pollination can substantially enhance fruit set and number of mature fruits in low as well as high shade management.

We recommend performing hand pollination particularly in agroforests under 40–50% canopy cover to create win-win opportunities for high productivity and climate resilience. Future research should focus on the wide range of agroforestry, tree grafting and innovation strategies in all major production regions to capture the long-term variability of hand pollination as a basis to scale-up hand pollination for sustainable cocoa production globally.

Manu's work is published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment

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