Confectionery giant Mars Wrigley is hoping to triple its global cocoa production over the next ten years, in part through the development of better disease resistant cocoa varieties, according to board member Frank Mars.

Speaking at the World Cocoa Conference in Berlin, Mars shared scientific results from five new research projects, in collaboration with academic partners from Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz (Brazil), Clemson University and Washington State University (US).

Mars said: “[These articles] build on work by Mars Wrigley, IBM and the USDA to help sequence the cocoa genome. It also adds to the work on higher yielding pest and disease resistant clonal varieties Mars has helped develop with cocoa growing countries [such as Brazil].”

The research includes the development of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chip, a genomic tool that allows producers to compare cocoa trees.

A Mars Wrigley spokesperson said: “This is done quickly to assess their relatedness and to determine the presence of genes associate with key disease resistance traits. Genetic markers can also enable the selection of plants with resistance to four important fungal diseases: ceratocystis cacaofunesta, moniliophthora roreri, moniliophthoraperniciosa and phytophthora palmivora.”

Mars added: “Applying the knowledge gained through this work can help cocoa farmers produce more cocoa on less land and with less pesticide, which can improve their livelihoods.”

The company has thus far been cooperating with cocoa producers in Brazil and Ecuador to validate tree selections using the genetic markers. After validation, many of the selections will be available for use by smallholder farms worldwide.

“We’re seeing farmer yields increase by two to three times with the SNP technology, when compared with current planting material available in West Africa,” said the spokesperson. “We will also share the information being generated, including genetic makers, to inform breeding programmes in West Africa… This has the potential to have a hugely positive economic impact.”

A group of the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa manufacturers, including Mars Wrigley, has pledged to source 100% of its cocoa from sustainable sources by 2020. Other confectionery companies in the group include Ferrero, Hershey and Olam Cocoa.

The most recent sustainability progress report noted that since 2016, Mars Wrigley has sourced more than half of its cocoa from responsible growers. However, it adds that the current level of action has not been sufficient. The company said that increasing cocoa yields should be achieved partly through improving farming practices, and tackling pest and disease.

“This would free up land occupied with unproductive cocoa trees for farmers to grow other crops, including those for their own consumption,” said Mars.