The Mabang Megakarya Selection Programme (MMSP)

The supply of improved planting materials to farmers is a cornerstone of sustainable cocoa production. Many cocoa producing regions in West Africa, including the Ghana cocoa belt, are facing the devastating Phytophthora megakarya Black Pod disease, which cannot be controlled economically by fungicides or cultural techniques. The Mabang Megakarya Selection Programme (MMSP) is an advanced, large-scale cocoa breeding programme which is developing high performance planting materials capable of producing high yields of good quality cocoa even under heavy pressure from Phytophthora megakarya and other pests and pathogens.

Seedling Trials

The first output from MMSP will be recommendations for new pollen parents for existing seed gardens. The objective is to identify parental crosses which will produce seed capable of outperforming existing materials and, at the same time, will increase the genetic diversity of the materials distributed to farmers in order to reduce the risk of widespread susceptibility to new strains of disease or stress conditions. The performance of seed generated from crosses with 30 different candidate pollen parents, selected based on the analysis of data from previous trials at CRIG and elsewhere, are being evaluated at the Mabang site and also at the CRIG sub-station at Afosu. Propagation of these candidate pollen parents is already underway, thanks to a linked project supported by COCOBOD and Mondelēz International, so that the seed gardens are ready to distribute the new materials as soon as possible after the recommendations have been made.

Clone Trials

MMSP's strategy is to evaluate large numbers of candidate clones in preliminary (Stage 1) trials to maximise the chances of identifying individuals with excellent yield, quality and agronomic characteristics. Over 1,700 different individuals are already under evaluation in Stage 1 clone trials (over 10ha). These represent a wide range of genetic diversity, including internationally available germplasm, selections from pre-existing CRIG trials, and farmer selections. It is anticipated that a further 500 candidates will be established in Stage 1 trials each year from 2015 onwards bringing the total area under Stage 1 clone trials to nearly 20ha, comprising of approximately 3,500 different clones during this phase of the programme. Only the most promising individuals are selected for larger scale Stage 2 trials for full evaluation of yield and disease/pest reaction. Two Stage 2 trials have already been planted and a further two will be planted over the next three years. Although the first of these may come into bearing during this phase of the programme, several years of data will be needed before the best candidate clones can be identified for multiplication and subsequent planting in multi-site trials, including farmer field trials.

Breeding Strategy and Research

Trials at MMSP have been set up to refine the recurrent selection breeding methodology to take account of the observed differences in vigour between the seedling and clonal generations. MMSP offers many opportunities for further research since it can offer valuable plant populations on which to carry out observations and data collection which will not impact on the practical breeding work but will help to extend our knowledge and understanding of the factors which determine cocoa yield. It is anticipated that MMSP will co-operate with CRIG staff and other research institutions to develop these lines of research including the validation and eventual use of predictive methods for more rapid identification of key breeding traits.

Socio-Economic Impact in the Mabang area

Since its inception, MMSP has given employment and training opportunities to over 300 local people, including many young people and women, with consequent multiplier effects for the rural economy in the area (Asamoah and Nsiah, 2012)*.

*Asamoah, M. and Nsiah, E.K. (2012). The Social Implications of the Mabang Megakarya Selection Programme (MMSP). Proceedings of the 17th International Cocoa Research Conference, 15th -20th October, 2012, Yaoundé, Cameroon. COPAL, Lagos, Nigeria (In press)

"A cocoa breeding initiative to improve the seed gardens of today and develop the clones of tomorrow"