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Genotyping Cocoa Trees

Cocoa trees come in several varieties in Samoa, each of which has different physical and biological aspects that determine cocoa yield and flavour. Some varieties have below average yield and flavour, while other varieties produce large yields of high quality cocoa. In partnership with the Samoan Cocoa Industry Development Initiative (S.C.I.D.I.), SKIA intends to assist Samoa in producing high quality fine flavour cocoa. We aim to achieve this through genetically determining the varieties of the trees used to supply seed and budwood to SKIA nurseries, enabling SKIA to sell only the highest quality cocoa seedlings and grafted plants to Samoan cocoa farmers.

From April to July 2019, SKIA will be running a cocoa tree genotyping project, with the help of the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS) and New Zealand’s Massey University. Genotyping is the process of collecting DNA samples from the cocoa trees, before analysing these and loading the results into a computer. The DNA is then compared with DNA from cocoa trees of known varieties. If a tree is similar enough to a tree of a known variety, it is considered to be of that variety. This project aims to scientifically identify the variety of 200 cocoa trees from four farms across Upolu and Savai’i as Trinitario, Criollo, Lafi 7 or Forastero cocoa trees.

The trees selected for this project were chosen on multiple criteria. The trees were required to be healthy and free of disease, and have had consistently high yields of large cocoa pods over a period of several years. 50 trees each were sampled from three farms in Itu Asau, Amoa and Apia, as well as from a Samoa Trust Estates Corporation (STEC) plantation near Afia. Each sampled tree location was recorded using GPS, with location details and suspected tree variety recorded into a database. This data set will be paired with the genotyping data at the end of the project to enable SKIA to begin purchasing seed and budwood on a ‘by variety’ basis with a degree of confidence. At the end of the genotyping project, SKIA will release the data to the involved parties.

Dependent on the project outcome, SKIA may consider genotyping a further 200 trees on four additional properties to expand the availability of seed and budwood for SKIA nursery requirements. With this sufficient supply of verified seed and budwood, SKIA will be able to produce quality cocoa plants for Samoan cocoa farmers on an ongoing basis. Seedlings will be of a verifiable parentage from healthy, high yielding and disease resistant parent trees. The majority of these seedlings will then be grafted, which will further improve the quality of Samoa’s cocoa stock.

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