Chocolate Industry

Mars and SwissDeCode team up to detect cocoa virus and boost sustainable cocoa cultivation


Sep 27, 2021 — A test that identifies the potentially devastating virus in coca colas before they show symptoms has been developed by Mars Wrigley and food testing company SwissDeCode.

Hailed as being quick and simple, the new test is a major improvement for the cocoa industry as it helps protect cocoa yields and farmer incomes by detecting swollen cocoa shoot disease (CSSD) in symptomless trees. in less than 60 minutes.

It’s been a long time coming, as SwissDeCode says it has been looking for a solution to help combat CSSD for decades.

For decades, cocoa trees have been infected. The virus is an acute problem for the cocoa and chocolate industry as it can reduce cocoa yield by up to 70%.

So far, no effective method for rapidly detecting the presence of the virus in fields of asymptomatic plants has been found.

The new method has been adapted to the needs of the cocoa industry.

Technology and research
The new solution is an easy-to-perform test kit that would allow field staff to quickly test cocoa trees, using their leaves as samples.

It is built on SwissDeCode’s proprietary DNAFoil technology and incorporates underlying research from Mars Wrigley.

This means that farmers can take immediate action to prevent the spread of the virus to healthy trees, thereby preserving yields. Cocoa nurseries also welcome early detection as it allows regular monitoring of tree health and release of planting material only when they are practically free from the virus.

Replanting infected areas and regenerating old farms can be carried out with greater peace of mind, helping farmers increase their yields and incomes while preventing deforestation.

Collaboration is the key to the science of crops
Mars Wrigley has a long history of advancing the science of crops to improve cocoa production around the world.

This collaboration has enabled SwissDeCode to understand the specific issues and requirements of end users, from cocoa farmers to trade organizations.

Once the field validations are complete, the kit will be ready for large-scale use.

“We are making cocoa cultivation more sustainable by preventing large-scale deforestation caused by recurring infections,” says Brij Sahi, CEO and co-founder of SwissDeCode

“We have been looking for reliable preventive solutions against CSSD since the 1940s, because every year cocoa plantations are more and more affected by this virus. By partnering with SwissDeCode, we finally found a fast and reliable on-site diagnosis, ”adds Jean-Philippe Marelli, Senior Director, Integrated Pest Management, Mars Wrigley.

Most of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, with the two largest producers, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, accounting for nearly 60% of global cocoa production.

Cocoa exports play a huge role in their economies and are an essential source of income for millions of smallholder farmers.

What is Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease?
The disease is caused by plant viruses and transmitted by mealybugs from infected cocoa trees to healthy cocoa trees. West Africa is particularly affected, particularly Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where more than 780,000 hectares of cocoa trees are believed to be infected.

Cocoa trees affected by CSSD may be asymptomatic for up to two years, but then they begin to show symptoms such as red veins of leaves or swollen stems and roots and usually die within three to four years of the development of the leaves. symptoms.

Several strains of the virus have been identified and the only known cure is to cut down and destroy infected trees. The virus has already infected around 17% of cocoa growing areas in Ghana (over 300,000 ha) and over 100,000 ha in Côte d’Ivoire.

Infected trees cannot be cured, and the disease can only be managed by preventing spread to healthy trees by planting barrier crops or cutting down infected trees entirely.

Targeted intervention
These measures can have a significant impact on the sustainability of cocoa production as they are responsible for the loss of thousands of hectares every year and millions of dollars are spent on replanting cocoa trees, which is considered the best solution for stop the spread of disease.

This new technology allows for early detection, which allows for targeted intervention and helps reduce the need to fell mature trees to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Edited by Gaynor Selby

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