The Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) in Southern China has been working on the value chain of tropical crop production systems, forage seeds, tropical fruits, rubber and cassava across its fourteen research institutes. The tropical research agenda of Chinese Universities remains obscure because delegations visit cities like Beijing in the North rather than the subtropical southern provinces of China. Chinese confectionary ingredient company Jiangsu Wuxi Taihu Cocoa Food Co. has re-entered the finished chocolate product market more than ten years after selling that side of the business to Hershey’s.  Selene Wang, assistant director of international sales at this Chinese Cocoa company, notes that different regions have different recipes, different tastes and different flavours and they will need to do more R&D before exploring new product development opportunities. They have observed trends like- Ruby Chocolate (RB1), launched by the firm Barry Callebaut. Presently, Jiangsu Wuxi Taihu sells cocoa butter to the U.S. and cocoa powder to South America, India and Pakistan and has just penetrated the Middle East market segment from their factories in Nigeria and Jiangsu.

Both China and India have seen strong growth in cocoa ingredients in recent years, with China posting an average annual growth rate of 6% and India 16% over 2008-2103. However, this growth is being driven by quite different consumption patterns in these two countries. Cocoa ingredients in India, more closely match that of the worldwide market. Cocoa liquor takes the largest share at 43% (37% worldwide), cocoa butter 29% (33%) and cocoa powder 27% (30%). Meanwhile, China is quite different, with cocoa liquor only accounting for 23% of total cocoa volumes, cocoa butter 17%, but cocoa powder reaching 60%.

China is the world’s largest market for flavoured milk drinks. In 2013, sales exceeded 5 billion litres, over four times as big as the US, the second largest market, and 27 times as large as the Indian market. So while India and China are often pulled together as similar markets based on their growth potential, they are quite different and offer different opportunities in cocoa ingredient categories.

In India, an emerging trend is intercropping of Cocoa and Coconut in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Mondelez India Foods Ltd., (Formerly Cadbury India Ltd.) manages 11 seedling nurseries in four states and offers free technical training to Indian farmers. Tissue culture banana cultivation is a new trend in India to lower risks and improve yields as farmers also intercrop banana with coconut, ginger, pepper, elephant-foot yam and nutmeg.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the deadly Black and Yellow Sigatoka disease have overwhelmed banana plantations.  So much so, that Banana is now an import. It is theorised that this disease may have migrated across the Columbus Channel from nearby South American countries into Cedros and thereafter into plantations across Trinidad and Tobago.

This is not the first instance of disease crossing the channel. Dr. Pawan discovered that bats infected with paralytic rabies in South America crossed the channel and were responsible for 13 human causalities in Siparia in 1929. Frosty Pod caused by the fungus- moniliophthora roreri, is now adding to the miseries of Witches Broom and Black Pod. Already affecting Jamaican cocoa plantations,  it is possible to make landfall in Cedros as this disease which first appeared in Colombia in 1917 has spread to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, El Salvador, and is now in Venezuela.  Opportunities for this pathogen to flourish locally, rests in the large acreage of abandoned Cocoa estates which can quickly become ‘fungi-factories’ spreading spores into productive estates.

In Cedros, large Coconut plantations are distressed by Red Ring Disease and Red Palm Mite. The market solution has been to import coconut water and copra from Guyana.  On some estates, Red Palm Mite has reduced production to 40% in some years. To avoid the use of residual miticides like Oberon some farmers would attach an old sock stuffed with kitchen salt and a bar of Blue Soap on the crown of a coconut tree. Others have used traps baited with pheromone or sugar cane laced with molasses as a mite attractor.

These techniques have failed with the Atlantic Tall Coconut Palms but have succeeded with the Malayan Dwarf or Chinese Coconut Palm. Scientists at CATAS are working on cassava, new varieties of tropical fruits, banana resistance and banana Fusarium wilt. At the Coconut Research Institute of CATAS, functional gene and trait analysis of tropical oil crops along with studies on the molecular biology of coconut and oil palm are active lines of academic investigation. Cocoa, Cassava, Coconut and Banana are all on the ‘One Belt One Road’ of- One China.