This week I had the pleasure to speak with Lisette Phelan, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds and the author of the entry for “agroforestry”.
In 2015, you started doing research in the cacao industry. Why did this industry attract you? Do you plan on doing more cacao research, or do you want to continue in the cacao industry in some other way?
Actually, I started working in cocoa somewhat by chance. I joined the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as a visiting researcher in 2015, after completing my MSc studies in Germany. The idea was that I would build on my MSc thesis work and explore the scope for and interest in carbon insetting (that is, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions in a value chain context) in Southeast Asia.
Although my colleagues and I initially had contact with dairy sector actors, we quickly realised that there was more interest among actors in the cocoa sector in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia. So, that’s how I ended up transitioning from conducting research on livestock production to cocoa production, and, one year later, embarking on PhD research on soil and water management practices in cocoa production in Ghana and Ecuador in 2016.
I’d like to engage in research related to cocoa again in the future and still follow research developments in the sector. But, at the moment, I’m enjoying being based at the University of Leeds as a Postdoctoral Researcher and conducting research related to soil health and the emerging agricultural soil carbon market in the UK and Europe.
And what do you think is the importance of the Glossary to the academic world?
I think the Glossary is an important development in the cocoa sector; it represents a willingness to contribute to standardising our understanding of terms that to date have been widely used but broadly interpreted. Although it’s not the first glossary of terms to emerge in recent years, I think that the idea underpinning the FCIA Glossary that sets it apart from other glossaries is that its development starts from the premise that conceptualisation and understanding of terms should be crowdsourced. As a result, the vision for the Glossary is that is continues as a “live” product, with definitions added, improved. and updated as necessary.
One last question. What do you recommend everyone eating or drinking (anything with cacao/chocolate) at least once in their life? Anything interesting you have encountered during your travels around the world?
I enjoyed trying Nacional cacao beans straight from the cocoa pod in Ecuador and the subtle differences in the flavor of the pulp of beans from different pods. However, without a doubt, I’d say cocoa beans coated in cane sugar has to be my favorite cocoa product. I was introduced to it by a friend from Guatemala back in 2012, and I’ve been on the lookout for it ever since. It’s not something that I’ve seen for sale in Europe and I wish someone would introduce it to the European market. I had the chance to stock up on a supply while attending the World Cocoa Conference held in the Dominican Republic in 2016. Recently, I received a gift of cocoa beans coated in coconut sugar from the Philippines – it was simply delicious!