World’s Chocolate Supply Under Threat By Virus, Researchers Call for Cacao Trees To Be Vaccinated

Cacao trees in West Africa, where 50% of the world’s chocolate originates, are currently under threat by a virus that may jeopardize the global supply of chocolate.

In a new scientific study, researchers from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana and the University of Kansas, Prairie View A&M, reported that the cacao swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD), caused by tiny insects called mealybugs, has endangered cacao trees in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Harvests in the Ivory Coast and Ghana have been cut by 15% to 50% since the virus has wreaked havoc on cocoa trees.

To combat the pesky virus, researcher Chen-Charpentier from the University of Kansas, Prairie View A&M, has advocated for vaccinating cocoa trees and spreading them out from one another.

Chen-Carpentier stated, “What we needed to do was create a model for cacao growers so they could know how far away they could safely plant vaccinated trees from unvaccinated trees in order to prevent the spread of the virus while keeping costs manageable for these small farmers.”

Per Science Daily:

A rapidly spreading virus threatens the health of the cacao tree and the dried seeds from which chocolate is made, jeopardizing the global supply of the world’s most popular treat.

About 50% of the world’s chocolate originates from cacao trees in the West Africa countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. The damaging virus is attacking cacao trees in Ghana, resulting in harvest losses of between 15 and 50%. Spread by small insects called mealybugs that eat the leaves, buds and flowers of trees, the cacao swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD) is among the most damaging threats to the root ingredient of chocolate.

Chen-Charpentier and colleagues from the University of Kansas, Prairie View A&M, the University of South Florida and the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana have developed a new strategy: using mathematical data to determine how far apart farmers can plant vaccinated trees to prevent mealybugs from jumping from one tree to another and spreading the virus.

“Mealybugs have several ways of movement, including moving from canopy to canopy, being carried by ants or blown by the wind,” Chen-Charpentier said. “What we needed to do was create a model for cacao growers so they could know how far away they could safely plant vaccinated trees from unvaccinated trees in order to prevent the spread of the virus while keeping costs manageable for these small farmers.”

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