Dr. Peter Aikpokpodion was awarded the Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP) fellowship in Summer 2006. He pursued his PhD at the University of Ibadan through a collaborative research arrangement with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria. Dr. Aikpokpodion’s research was aimed at unraveling the extent of genetic diversity in the national cacao genetic resources maintained in gene bank collections and farmers’ plantations. He hoped to use the knowledge gained from his research to develop strategies to be adopted for exploitation of the national cacao genetic resources, variety development and institutional policies which would have positive impacts on the farming population through the release of improved varieties and better delivery systems. Specifically, the study provided essential information that explained the extent of genetic diversity in farmers’ commercial plantations and how research has benefited cocoa cultivation in Nigeria. Dr. Mark Guiltinan at Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Maria Kolesnikova-Allen at the International Institute of tropical Agriculture (IITA) mentored Dr. Aikpokpodion.
Today, Dr. Aikpokpodion is Team Leader at the Cocoa Value Chain Development Program, administered through the Nigerian government’s Ministry of Agriculture. The government is distributing 3.6 million hybrid cocoa pods to farmers in an effort to increase production and export. In his position at the Ministry, Dr. Aikpokpodion is responsible for coordinating the training of over 70,000 farmers and providing support to cooperative groups. The aggressive program intends to not only increase cocoa production but to build new generations of cocoa agric business entrepreneurs. As part of his work, he also facilitates private sector investments and coordinates public-private sector partnerships. In 2010, Dr. Aikpokpodion developed and officially released eight hybrids of cocoa (CRIN Tc.1-8) for Nigeria. These varieties are high yielding, resistant to Phytophothora pod rot and of superior cocoa flavor (confirmed by chocolate manufacturers such as Mars, Inc.). Dr. Aikpokdion is also part of the Cocoa Genomics Consortium which a few years ago sequenced the cacao genome.