Sabor Arriba, The Reference Publication For “Cacao Nacional”

Sabor Arriba is a quarterly publication of ANECACAO (Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Cacao e Industrializados del Ecuador). Through this bilingual (Spanish and English) magazine available in both paper and digital format, ANECACAO stands out as a unique reference point for illustrating to a broad audience the history, objectives, and achievements attained in the production and exportation of Ecuadorian nacional cacao in the world.

The latest issue of the renowned Ecuadorian cocoa bulletin is entirely devoted to how ANECACAO was born exactly 30 years ago and on which core principles it was founded, exposing the primary objectives of the association:

  • to increase the productivity and qualitative competitiveness of a traditional Ecuadorian crop in South America,
  • to become the leader in the volume production and exportation of cacao fino de aroma in the world (about 80% of Ecuadorian cocoa is exported, of which 75% is Arriba Nacional and 25% CCN-51).

To achieve its ambitious targets during a thirty-year period, ANECACAO fostered a productive dialogue and established trusted relationships between cocoa farmers and cocoa exporters, thanks to the support of joint public-private initiatives from different national and international institutions, and the activation of easy loans and financial aids.

Alejandro Orellana, founding partner of ANECACAO:
We have definitely grown. When ANECACAO began, Ecuador’s production was between 75,000 and 85,000 tons of cocoa per year. Production was not going beyond that. Currently we are approaching 280,000 tons and endeavoring to continue increasing.

In order to improve the sustainability of Nacional Arriba cocoa production, crucial has been the role in technical-scientific research played by INIAP (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias), as reported in the article:

Origin of Ecuadorian National Cocoa Clones Developed by INIAP

The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao L., is native to the humid tropics of South America. Its center of origin is located in northwestern South America, in the high Amazon region of Ecuador. This has been determined by evidence in archaeological remains found in the Palanda canton located in the province of Zamora Chinchipe. Ecuadorian cacao is in great demand in the international market due to its aroma and flavor, and the country produces 60% of the world production of this fine cocoa.
The cultivation of cacao in Ecuador was initially developed in the lower Guayas River basin in the province of Los Ríos (Vinces, Babahoyo, Palenque, Baba, Pueblo Viejo, Catarama and Ventanas), in the southern part of Guayas province (Naranjal, Balao, Tenguel) and in El Oro province (Machala and Santa Rosa). The first area in the province of Los Ríos was called “Sabor arriba”. And cacao was also grown in the humid zone of the province of Manabí, on the banks of the river Chone, in orchards of “pure Nacional” cacao. At present, cacao of the Nacional type is established throughout Ecuador.
The northern zone in the province of Esmeraldas, has a very special “Criollo” type cacao, which is called “Esmeraldas”. In the eastern part of Ecuador (Amazon region), cacao is cultivated on the river banks where formerly cacao existed in wild type.
Between 1915 and 1920, two diseases came on stage: Witches Broom disease caused by Moniliophthora perniciosa and Monilla (Moniliophthora roreri), which spread throughout the cacao growing areas of Ecuador, inflicting great damage to the plantations and causing a decrease of production to 15,000 MT in 1930 from 40,000 MT in 1915-1919.
INIAP began trials in 1940 with the introduction of genetic material obtained from collections, to improve plantations and in turn started to collect materials resistant to pests and diseases. This sought to improve cocoa clones with resistance to diseases such as Witch’s Broom, Monilla and at the same time optimize the production of the country’s cocoa orchards.
Hybridization was used at the beginning of cocoa breeding, to optimize yield by heterosis or hybrid vigor. In more advanced stages of the program, strain improvement was attempted through hybridization, back crosses and selection; in addition, efforts were made to incorporate more specific factors such as those that determine resistance to diseases, insects, drought, and superior quality traits such as pod and bean size, among others.
INIAP’s objectives included the need to provide the tropical western part of Ecuador with new Criollo and Nacional type clonal options with superior quality, and to make them available to the producing sector, becoming tools to boost the technology and enhancement of cocoa cultivation. Objectives also included the development of cocoa clones with high yield potential, good agronomic, sanitary and organoleptic characteristics, adapted to different agro-ecological zones and suitable to growers’ needs.
Thus, the implementation of different breeding programs was initiated, with the most widely used strategies for cocoa: clone selection, which has been used since the 1940s; family selection of sexual origin, a very commonly used technique that consists of obtaining first generation hybrids (F1’s) from clones to be used as parents for hybrid seed, with strong heterosis expected for increased yield, vigor and precocity.
The use of clones enables farmers to increase the uniformity of plantations and their yield, but its high initial cost requires a higher technological level for plantation management. When using sexual family techniques, the selection cycle is very long and it takes many years to obtain individuals with several desirable characteristics, and the descendants are very heterogeneous.
Regardless of the selection and propagation techniques of the genotypes used for the evaluation process, we use coefficients of parameters such as the average pod weight and the seed index.
Pod weight depends on the size and shape of the pod, and usually, the weight of the pod has a direct correlation with the weight and number of seeds present in the fruit. The pod index is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. The seed index is the average weight in grams of 100 dried and fermented seeds, and it is common practice to discard the materials that weigh less than 1.1 gr.
The agronomic index is used to select individual trees and is defined as the relationship between production and plant vigor. This is calculated as the resulting quotient between the accumulated dry and fermented cocoa production at a defined time and tree trunk diameter. Previous studies indicate that production depends on tree vigor and it is essential to know this agronomic trait because it allows advisers to make recommendations on planting density and pruning of trees, which in the future will reflect the performance efficiency of each tree within a plantation.
There are two classes of quality parameters for cocoa: (1) physical characteristics such as size, weight, shell thickness, color and fat content and (2) organoleptic characteristics that influence taste, which is determined by flavor and aroma. These aspects depend on the combined effects of genotype and edaphoclimatic factors, agricultural practices and post-harvest technology.

Development of cocoa materials by INIAP

Until the early 1900s in Ecuador, only “Nacional” cacao was grown, and from 1914 onward with the appearance of diseases, foreign cocoa materials began to be introduced, erroneously called “Venezuelan Purple and Yellow Variety”, whose origin was Trinidad, Surinam and Grenada. Because of these introductions, natural hybridization gave rise to what is now known as “Nacional Type” with differing degrees of Venezuelan to Nacional cocoa genetics. In the lower basin of the Guayas river, this ratio was 1 to 3, however, in areas such as Machala, the ratio was 1 to 1 and from 1 to 8 for the area where “Bahia” cocoa is grown. In the zone of Manabí the relation was of 1 to 70 (one Venezuelan tree to 70 Nacional).
However, according to some studies, Trinitarian cacao initially entered the country from Venezuela around 1890, and then between 1946 and 1947 Hacienda La Clementina formally introduced around 20,000 rooted cuttings of ICS-1 and naked root ICS-95 varieties, and also ICS-45 (the latter with extreme susceptibility to Mal de Machete disease). In the northern part of the province of Esmeraldas, cacao with Criollo characteristics (from Colombia, Venezuela and Central America) was observed in 1949.
On the other hand, obtaining cacao progenies to select superior plants began at Pichilingue Tropical Experimental Station at the end of 1940. As early as 1952, hybrids of SCA-6 X ICS-1, SCA-6 X IMC and SCA-12 X S-62 began to be recommended for their apparent resistance to Witches Broom. The plants were initially distributed by the Company for Cacao Renewal ERCA, which set up five nurseries in Vinces, La Julia, Rocafuerte, Naranjal and Machala, with capacity to produce 1,000,000 plants per year.
Studies on the characterization and evaluation of old populations created by the mixture of progenies resulting from directed hybridization of genotypes of Nacional cocoa with others cocoa trees of Forastero and Trinitarian origin, were resumed in 2002. These studies selected groups of parent trees with interesting levels of resistance to Witches Broom and Monilla diseases and excellent levels of production that have been recommended in mixtures called “polyclones”.
The first series of clonal cocoa materials were developed in the 1970’s, and these gave rise to the “100” series clones and which are still recommended. Considering the levels of adaptation to different environmental conditions, these are: EET-19, EET-48, EET-62, EET-95, EET-96 and EET-103. In addition, two materials of Trinitarian origin ICS-6 (EET-275) and ICS-95 (EET-111) were included, of which only the EET-111 is still recommended for the northern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon for its apparent adaptation to soils with acidic Ph.
Since 1995, new collection efforts of Nacional-type cocoa have been carried out on farms which show good production characteristics and resistance, maintaining the original quality of the fine cocoa. This allowed a new generation of materials of high-yield potential to be produced, starting in 2006, giving rise to the so-called “500” series with polyclones adapted to different environmental conditions and whose clones are: EET-544, EET-558, EET-559, EET-575, EET-576, EET-577 as well as two from the “400” series: EET-450 and EET-454, whose yields can be seen in graph # 1.
Finally, 21 years ago, crosses between clones of Nacional and CCN-51 had begun, in order to combine traits of high levels of productivity with high quality. This gave rise to a group of materials that allowed INIAP to deliver the first two clones of high-productive potential (2.4 to 3.0 MT dry cocoa/ha/ year) to the country’s cocoa sector (initially in the central zone) by the end of 2016. These clones are INIAP-EETP-800 AROMA and INIAP-EET-801 FINO clones, which show excellent potential for farming throughout the country.

Juan Pablo Zúñiga, President in charge of ANECACAO:
Our goal is that when someone in any part of the world thinks about fine chocolate, they think of Ecuador. Those of us who make up this association, working hand in hand with the growers, defend our cocoa as an important symbol of our country.