Super Cocoa: Why Is Everyone Talking About Sacha Gold?
August 29th this year, Confectionery News published an article about Sacha Gold, a cocoa cultivar that is being touted as high yielding, disease tolerant and fine flavour.
The article notes that Sacha Gold began commercial cultivation in Ecuador in 2008 and according to George Loquvam, CEO of Cimarron Cocoa Estates, the cultivar has the potential to produce 4mt/ha of dry cocoa beans under commercial cultivation. Cimarron Cocoa Estates operates two 40 hectare cocoa plantations in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The group is the owner of the Sacha Gold IPR. The cultivar is believed to be a segregation of CCN-51, a sexually reproduced line of trees derived from CCN-51. These trees were cloned by Cimarron, to provide a new source of planting material for commercial cocoa plantations. George Loquvam reports finding that some of Cimarron’s Sacha Gold trees have exhibited ‘stronger disease tolerance against Witches’ Broom and Frosty Pod.
While it is still early days in the commercial exploitation of Sacha Gold, Cimarron argue that the cultivar is a step up from CCN-51, being both more productive and with a better flavour. Some fans of Sacha Gold have even postulated that it will “slowly, slowly replace the Arriba Nacional in the fine aroma niche”. One HAB client noted that “when we visited the Cimarron plantation a couple years ago, the cultivar seemed to be performing well in the Ecuadorian Amazon climate, but there were only a few years of data so we could not form a view about the long term yield curve. Undoubtedly interesting…”. Yet another HAB client, United Cacao Ltd SEZC, has planted 40% of its plantation in the Peruvian Amazon with Sacha Gold, persuaded by the cultivar’s reputation for robustness, yield and flavour. Dennis Melka, interviewing 5th September, 2016 with the UK corporate information service: Directors Talk, commented: “we are delighted to have that crop, it’s growing incredibly well, we think it is a game-changer in the industry…”
Sacha Gold is frequently referred to as a ‘super tree’, a term that is thought to derive from the use of so called ‘super trees’ on a USAID programme in 2003. The ARD Pronorte programme in the north of Ecuador, sought to provide alternative incomes for the rural poor impacted by the cocaine trade. The ARD programme selected the best cacao trees calling them ‘Super Trees’ because they demonstrated productivity capacity 10 times greater than the traditional (and very low) average for Latin American small holder farmers 0.25 mt/ha.
Commercial cocoa estates, using Sacha Gold, hope to exceed the 2.5mt/ha target. If they do, then Sacha Gold will turn out to be ‘a game changer’ as described by UCL’s Dennis Melka. Yields of 2.5mt/ha of dry cocoa beans, is the targeted yield outcome for modern cocoa plantations, but with these plantations mostly still immature, and with cocoa being a relatively novel commercial crop since the early twentieth century, there are virtually no supportive data available.
What the interest in Sacha Gold underlines, is the still relatively unevolved commercial breeding segment for the cocoa sector. The continuous development of new commercial varieties is a critical component for the evolution of the commercial cocoa sector, as is true with any crop. As one leading plantation director responded on this observation: “You make the analysis! No increase in cacao yields in 100 years, and staggering increases in corn yields…”