An industry expert has warned that the situation could be ‘dire’ for the chocolate industry if ways of preventing cacao diseases are not effectively explored. Production in Africa, where 70 per cent of cacao is grown, would be especially damaged if disease were to spread.
Plant pathology Professor at the University of Florida, Randy Ploetz told confectionerynews.com that the three most virulent diseases affecting chocolate production are Witches Broom, Frosty Pod and Black Pod.
Currently Frosty Pod and Witches Broom are present only in tropical America but Prof Ploetz warned that if they were to spread to Africa the highly-susceptible crops grown there could be decimated. “One disease could do a lot of damage in very short order. We could find ourselves in a dire situation.”
He stressed however that the diseases were confined to America and work was being done to minimise the risk of transition. “The take home message is that the really serious diseases are only found in the Americas at the moment.”
Black Pod, which is present in Africa, is responsible for the destruction of 30 per cent to 90 per cent of cacoa loss per year.
According to Prof Ploetz, despite the potential losses to chocolate manufacturers, only one confectioner is directly involved in the work to combat the diseases.
Mars has been financially supporting the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its sustainable cacao projects for five years.
The Snickers and M&M maker is involved in the USDA's five year programmes which focus on breeding disease-resistant cacao.
As cacoa is a cross-pollinated crop it is difficult to induce uniformly high quality yields and the continuation of disease-resistant traits in the plants.
Prof Ploetz spoke at the Cacao Diseases: Important Threats to Chocolate Production Worldwide symposium held at the beginning of the month, during the joint annual meeting of The American Phytopathological Society, Canadian Phytopathological Society, and the Mycological Society of America.
By Catherine Boal