Less than 10% of flowers in a cocoa tree are pollinated in natural conditions. Efforts to bolster the yields traditionally involved breeding programs or the use of fertilizers and other chemicals. A new study on Indonesian cocoa farms took a different approach: pollinating by hand. Researchers compared cocoa yields using their hands-on process versus traditional farming practices. Hand pollination increased cocoa fruit yields by 51% to 161%. Even considering the cost of hand-pollination efforts, small-scale farmers had markedly higher incomes from the hands-on approach. Dark, milk, or somewhere in between, chocolate is a favorite treat all over the world. The Theobroma tree, the genus responsible for our cravings, thrives in shady, tropical regions. But cocoa trees are a finicky sort. Producing the rugby ball-shaped fruits rests on the pollination of a tiny, centimeter-sized flower. And in natural conditions, a scant number of flowers are pollinated by insect visitors. “I would say for the cocoa system, it is pretty normal that pollination of flowers is below 5 to 10%,” said Manuel Toledo-Hernández, an agroforester at Westlake University in China. Small-scale farms produce the majority of cocoa and provide a major source of income for people in West Africa, the Amazon […]

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