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Soil properties and agronomic factors affecting cadmium concentrations in cacao beans: A nationwide survey in Ecuador

Argüello, David, Chavez, Eduardo, Lauryssen, Florian, Vanderschueren, Ruth, Smolders, Erik, Montalvo, Daniela
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.649 pp. 120-127
beans, cadmium, chocolate, cocoa beans, farmers, fertilizer application, genotype, leaves, manganese, national surveys, orchards, organic carbon, pods, polluted soils, pruning, questionnaires, regression analysis, soil pH, solubility, Ecuador
Recent cadmium (Cd) regulation in chocolate threatens the sustainability of cacao production in Southwest America. Cadmium contamination in cacao beans has not been assessed at a country level. A nationwide survey was conducted in Ecuador to identify the spatial distribution of Cd in cacao beans, as well as soil and agronomic factors involved. Paired soil and plant samples (pods and leaves) were collected at 560 locations. Information on agronomic practices was obtained through a prepared questionnaire for farmers. Total soil Cd averaged 0.44 mg kg−1 which is typical for young and non-polluted soils. Mean Cd concentration in peeled beans was 0.90 mg kg−1 and 45% of samples exceeded the 0.60 mg kg−1 threshold. Bean Cd hotspots were identified in some areas in seven provinces. Multivariate regression analysis showed that bean Cd concentrations increased with increasing total soil Cd and with decreasing soil pH, oxalate-extractable manganese (Mnox) and organic carbon (OC) (R2 = 0.65), suggesting that Cd solubility in soil mainly affects Cd uptake. Bean Cd concentration decreased a factor of 1.4 as the age of the orchard increased from 4 to 40 years. Bean Cd concentration was inconsistently affected by genotype (CCN-51 vs. Nacional), pruning or application of fertilizers. It is concluded that the relatively larger bean Cd concentrations in Ecuador are related to the high Cd uptake capacity of the plants combined with their cultivation on young soils, instead of Cd depleted weathered soils. Mitigation strategies should consider the application of amendments to modify such soil properties to lower soil Cd availability. There is scope for genetic mitigation strategy to reduce bean Cd, but this needs to be properly investigated.