Fascination of Plants is an international intiative intended to increase public engagement with plant sciences. As part of the University of Greenwich's event, CocoaPOP staff had a stall exploring a number of areas of plant-sciences related research carried out by the group at NRI. Prominently featured was cocoa and cocoa pollination, with examples of the insects found on cocoa farms, and some real cocoa pods for visitors to see, smell and touch! Very few UK children have ever seen a cocoa pod in real life, so it was an exciting opportunity to engage them with where their chocolate bar came from, as well as to discuss the future of cooca and whether production can continue to meet demand.
We also featured a chocolate tasting, with samples of single-origin dark chocolate (70-75%) from countries across the world. We are pleased to say that Caribbean cocoa was a frequent favourite among our visitors!
Early results from the site monitoring as part of CocoaPOP have been presented at the British Ecological Society/Societé Francaise Ecologique Annual Meeting in Lille, France. Dr Sarah Arnold gave a talk presenting the patterns and dynamics of midge and other pollinator populations on Caribbean cocoa estates, and some of the factors that influence this.
The presentation was announced in an NRI news item "Coffee, cocoa, nectar, pollen?", uploaded on 12 December 2014.
Another CocoaPOP partnership meeting has taken place, involving representatives from all three countries involved in the project. As we head into the later stages of the project, the partners are all very busy with continued monitoring, sampling and field- and lab-work.
The partnership meeting was a chance to review progress, plan the next few months and exchange information. Highlights of recent months have included completion of two islands' biodiversity data sets, ongoing work on cocoa flowering phenology and various dissemination activities.
The meeting followed on from the International Fine Cocoa Innovation Centre conference, which was an excellent opportunity to showcase the CocoaPOP project to stakeholders, including farmer associations, industry representatives, other academics and chocolatiers. The conference included a post-meeting cocoa pollination workshop, which was a thoroughly exciting chance to discuss the big questions in cocoa pollination that will guide future reasearch work. CocoaPOP staff from UTT had a stall in the exhibition room at the conference to publicise the work we are doing.
Sarah Arnold from NRI visited Trinidad to assist with ongoing field and lab activities, including midge rearing and measuring effects of improving midge populations in cocoa fields.
She also took the opportunity of this visit to present recent CocoaPOP work at the IFCIC conference in her talk "Pollination in Caribbean cocoa fields: biodiversity, sustainable management and future directions".
CocoaPOP has reached the end of its second year of activities, and held its annual meeting at the University of Trinidad and Tobago in October 2014, with stakeholders and partners from Trinidad, Jamaica and the UK. Progress over the last year has been discussed: continued sampling from now 6 sites across 2 countries (3 islands), identification activities, training of students, publicity activities (some very successful visibility actions in Jamaica and Trinidad) and outreach to schools in the UK.
Insect monitoring and surveys are continuing in Tobago and Jamaica, with a team of students providing processing of the samples. Tens of thousands of insects have been caught and processed. Early results are showing some interesting trends and patterns that are definitely of relevance.
The visit by the UK (NRI) partners allowed some new fieldwork activities: trialling some synthetic cocoa odour lures in the field, using some new trap designs, and collecting more odour samples from Jamaican cocoa flowers. In Trinidad, the insectaries are virtually complete and so progress is being made with commencing midge-rearing at the Waterloo site, with use of insect breeding cages and emergence traps in the field. During the exploratory week, a small number of live cocoa midges were captured in the field and transported live to the insectaries, supporting the feasibility of lab-rearing them. Results are anticipated across coming months.