Fast Spreading Virus Threatens World’s Chocolate Supply

A virus rapidly spreading and wiping out cacao trees in West Africa has put the future of chocolate production at stake.

Cacao trees produce the cocoa beans needed for chocolate production. Around 50 per cent of the world’s chocolate comes from cacao trees in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa.

A new study published in PLoS ONE reveals that Ghanaian cacao harvests are experiencing massive losses (15-50%) due to the spread of Cacao Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD).

Tiny insects called mealybugs transmit this virus as they feed on infected trees. The yield of the virus-infested trees goes down as they also suffer swollen shoots, discoloured leaves, and distorted growth. Ultimately the infected cacao trees die.

As per reports, till now around 25 crore cacao trees have succumbed to this disease.

Stopping the virus’s spread is not easy as the mealybug carriers are very difficult to eradicate. Pesticides don’t work well against mealybugs.

Vaccinating the trees involves high cost and even vaccinated trees produce less cocoa.

In their study, the researchers have suggested strategically spacing the trees as remedy which will disrupt the mealybugs’ travel routes reducing the spread of the virus.

They have also added that surrounding unvaccinated trees with vaccinated trees can create a sort of herd immunity in the plantation.

Both these methods are still at the experimental state.

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