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21.07.2004 General News

'Saviour of Ghana cocoa' dies at 90

By Emily Hall

ONE of the 20th century's most prominent scientists, credited as being the father of modern day chocolate, has died aged 90.

Dr Peter Posnette, who spent most of his life in Chart Sutton, East Sutton and Sutton Valence, all near Maidstone, died on Saturday.

The brilliant scientist co-founded the West African Cocoa Research Institute in Ghana in 1938 and worked there up until 1949 - fuelling ground-breaking research into diseases of the rapidly-disappearing West African cocoa tree.

This work almost certainly saved the cocoa plant from extinction in Ghana - allowing production of the modern day chocolate to begin.

Dr Posnette's son, John, who still lives in Sutton Valence, said: "People have said that the Ghanaian Government has only now begun to realise what he did for cocoa research. My children very proudly tell me that their grandfather is the founder of modern day chocolate and I don't think they're far off the mark."

Dr Posnette was born Adrian Frank Posnette in Cheltenham, Gloucester, in 1914, although was always known as Peter. He was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School, going on to Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1932, where he had every intention of becoming a zoologist.

However, he was attracted to the Colonial Agricultural Service, which paid better and which also paid for two years' postgraduate study abroad.

Entry was highly competitive, with only two research posts for young graduates available that year - one in soil science and the other, which the surprised young man was awarded, in plant genetics.

During his studies at Cambridge, he met his future wife, Isabelle La Roche, an artist who had been dating Dr Posnette's best friend. After courting, the couple married, with Isabelle following her new husband to Africa.

On his return to Britain in 1949, the doctor began work at East Malling Research Station - using his vast knowledge of plant genetics to fight disease in strawberries and other berry fruits.

He and is wife, who had three children, lived at Little Ashurst Farm, Chart Sutton, where they stayed until 1970. There, they built up a successful fruit farm - with Dr Posnette planting every single tree. In 1976, he was given the CBE for his contribution to the British fruit industry.

At the research station, he was head of pathology, deputy director and then director for 10 years until his retirement in 1979, when the family moved to a cottage in East Sutton.

Mrs Posnette died in 1992.

Dr Posnette's family discovered that the Ghanaian building where the scientist began his work in 1938 is to be named the Posnette Building in his honour: their final regret is that Dr Posnette did not live to hear the news.

Colin Campbell, who worked with Dr Posnette in West Africa in 1976, and who now works in the entomology department at East Malling Research, said he saw the scientist as a role model.

He said: "If he had not done that work, that whole part of West Africa would be a lot poorer than it is now, and certainly the cocoa industry would probably not have survived. It would have affected the way in which we get chocolate in this country as most of the cocoa we get comes from West Africa.

"He was from the top score and probably one of the best scientists this country has ever produced. He was absolutely first rate and really will be missed."

A celebration of Dr Posnette's life is planned in East Sutton in September, with prominent scientists from across the world expected to pay their respects.

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