Safeguarding your chocolate 保衛你的巧克力

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Image caption Demand for chocolate has been increasing faster than the supply of cocoa

Vocabulary: agriculture 詞匯: 農業

Can you imagine a world without chocolate? It's not something I'd like to do, so I was relieved to read that there's a university with a programme to safeguard the future of chocolate!

The University of Reading, in England, has just opened a new clearing house for all the world's new cocoa varieties. They must be quarantined before they can be grown. Why? Cocoa production hit a record high of 4.4 million tonnes last year but an estimated 30% of the precious crop is regularly lost to pests and diseases. Now we don't want that, do we?

Demand for chocolate has been increasing faster than the global supply of cocoa and researchers think that new varieties are key to solving this problem.

The University of Reading has been protecting the quality of the new crops since 1985, after it took over the task from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London. And it has improved its facilities.

The leader of the institution's cocoa project, Professor Paul Hadley, says: "One of the principal issues concerning cocoa improvement is the supply of reliably clean, healthy, interesting cocoa material. You need some mechanism to make sure that if you are transferring the stuff, you're not transferring pests and diseases."

The cocoa centre has a collection of 400 plant varieties and their greenhouse uses a lot of energy to keep them in tropical conditions. After up to two years in quarantine, clean and safe seeds are sent to some 20 countries, including several in West Africa. That's where 75% of the cocoa used for chocolate worldwide comes from. The crop is crucial for the local economy: it employs about two million people.

Professor Hadley says he works with a small team of green-fingered technicians who look after the collection. And more of us seem to count on them now. The scientist says: "There is some concern within the industry that demand is increasing relentlessly - particularly in countries like China, where the standard of living is increasing and people are getting a taste for some of these confectionaries."

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