Malaga is the first place in Europe where cocoa is successfully grown

by Lorraine Williamson
cocoa

 

MáLAGA – Malaga has succeeded in cultivating the first cocoa plantation in Europe. The first harvest with cocoa of 100% origin Malaga is a fact and a historical milestone. 

The planting was carried out by CSIC researchers and researchers from the University of Malaga (UMA) in an unheated greenhouse at the Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture La Mayora in Algarrobo. Here the flowers are pollinated by hand. The first harvest is therefore successful because it is the first time in history that this exotic plant has been able to grow on European soil. 

Tropical product 

Cocoa is native to the Amazon and is therefore a species adapted to tropical climates. Currently, Latin America brings together 80% of world production and is the continent’s leading producer of cocoa varieties. According to the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO), between 70% and 100% of total cocoa exports come from countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. 

Africa is also one of the major producers of cocoa. The plant is Ghana’s main cash crop and the country’s main agricultural export. Among the largest cocoa producers in the world, Ghana is second only to Ivory Coast. 

After harvesting, the cocoa beans are dried and fermented for export to countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium. Tons of cocoa come to Europe for its production, but it has not been possible to grow cocoa in any European country. Until now in the province of Malaga. 

Temperature is the first obstacle to cocoa cultivation 

The project is led by researcher Iñaki Hormaza, head of the Subtropical Fruit Growing Department. He confesses in La Opinión de Málaga that “it is not the first time that cocoa has been planted in Europe”, but the weather conditions were always the main obstacle. Cocoa is a tropical plant that only survives in a climate where it does not fall below 15 degrees. Therefore, outdoor cultivation is not possible outside the tropical climate. If you want to plant cocoa in Europe and keep it well, the temperature must be kept under control. That has now been achieved in La Mayora. 

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The fact that the researchers in Malaga have succeeded in adapting the plants to the climate is a milestone. “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 have been made in greenhouses without heating and with heating. Moreover, the results were positive in places without heating,” confirms Iñaki Hormoza. 

Pollination as an achievement 

Another research achievement is pollination. Cocoa flowers have entomophilic pollination, that is, they can only be pollinated by insects. Small flies in the greenhouses take care of that. To pollinate the plants, the researchers “did it manually, although we see that the greenhouse insects can help pollinate themselves,” says Hormaza. 

The experiment started in 2020 and three years later, about 80 plants of four cocoa varieties are starting to bear fruit. However, the work of the researchers in La Mayora does not stop there. They will now focus their research on the optimal moment of cocoa harvest. 

Water as an obstacle 

Water is another important aspect of this production. The lack of water is one of the handicaps of Malaga because there is a lot of drought in the province. Nevertheless, Iñaki Hormaza claims that “the lack of water is not a problem because the plants in the greenhouse need less water”. 

Malaga as a producer of Andalucian cocoa? 

On whether Málaga could become a producer of Andalucian cocoa, Hormaza is clear: “No, not in large quantities. It is very expensive to produce and maintain. However, it can be a gastronomic product sold to specific producers “, he emphasises. 

The next challenge for the Mayora researchers is “seeing whether we can optimise the process with other varieties. At what point should the chocolate be collected, fermented and produced,” he says. 

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