Science and good weather: this is how the first cocoa plantation in Europe has been created in Malaga

Bali Villas
Obtaining cocoa of 100% origin from Malaga is already a reality. Malaga has succeeded in pioneering the cultivation of this exotic plant on European soil thanks to a pioneering study carried out by CSIC researchers. The harvest is at the La Mayora Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture, in Malaga, a mixed center belonging to the CSIC and the University of Malaga. Leading this project is the researcher Iñaki Hormaza, head of the Subtropical Fruit Growing Department. Cocoa is native to the Amazon and, therefore, it is a species adapted to tropical climates. Currently, Latin America brings together 80% of world production, being the main producer of cocoa varieties. According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), between 70% and 100% of total cocoa exports are made from countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico, corresponding to these special varieties of cocoa. Africa is also one of the main producers of cocoa. This plant is Ghana's main cash crop and the country's main agricultural export. Among the world's leading cocoa producers, Ghana ranks second after Côte d'Ivoire. After harvest, the cocoa beans are dried and fermented for export to countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium. Tons of cocoa arrive to Europe for its production, but in no European country has it been possible to plant a cocoa crop. Until today, which has come true in the province of Malaga. The researcher Iñaki Hormaza confesses that "it is not the first time that cocoa has been tried to be planted in Europe", but the weather conditions have been the first obstacle. Cocoa is a tropical plant, so it survives in a climate adapted to temperatures not less than 15 degrees. Outside of the tropical climate it is not possible to grow outdoors, so in order to do so in Europe the temperature must be controlled. Something they have achieved in La Mayora. The planting milestone was managing to adapt the plants to the climate: "We managed to maintain the temperature in the greenhouse without heating, because even if the temperature drops, it recovers during the day and is enough to maintain the crop. Both attempts were made in greenhouses without heating as well as with heating, and the results were positive in places without heating", affirms Iñaki Hormoza. Another of the research achievements has been pollination. Cocoa flowers have an entomophilous pollination, that is, they can only be pollinated by insects. The pollination process is carried out by tiny flies that are present in the Amazon. To pollinate the plants, the researchers have done it "manually, although we are seeing that the greenhouse insects themselves can help pollinate," says Hormaza. This experiment began in 2020 when both CSIC scientists in collaboration with La Despensa de Palacio began attempts to produce the cocoa plant. Three years later, some 80 plants of four varieties of cocoa have begun to bear fruit. The work of the researchers does not stop there. Now the lines of the study are going to focus on the optimal moment of cocoa harvesting.

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