Disease threat to cocoa bean choc horror

A A A

Bittersweet help is at hand for Bridget Jones and all chocoholics. The world's chocolate supplies, say American government scientists, are under "serious threat".

Bittersweet help is at hand for Bridget Jones and all chocoholics. The world's chocolate supplies, say American government scientists, are under "serious threat".

Five devastating diseases, they report, are sweeping through the world's cacao crops, imperilling the staple diet of the neurotic thirty-something. Every year almost a million tons of cocoa beans, worth more than half a billion pounds, are lost to the plagues on three continents.

And the scientists, from the US Department of Agriculture (Usda) - who describe their mission as "to save chocolate for the enthusiastic consumers of the world" - confess that all attempts to stop the diseases have failed.

Chocolate - harvested from a tropical rainforest tree, whose Latin name, Theobroma cacao, describes it as the "food of the gods" - was originally brought across the Atlantic from Central America by Cortez and his conquistadores. It was the first stimulant drink introduced to Europe, pre-dating coffee and tea.

It took about a century to catch on, needing the addition of sugar, cinnamon - and even chilli peppers - to make its naturally bitter taste more palatable. Since then, it has never looked back. Until now.

Now, say the scientists from Usda's Alternate Crops and Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, "several important fungal diseases pose a serious threat to the supply".

One, called "witches' broom", has slashed Brazil's production of cocoa by three-quarters in just 10 years and is devastating crops in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama. Even worse is the "black pod" disease, which has cut harvests by up to 90 per cent in West and Central Africa, where two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans are grown, and has also reached Asia.

A third disease, "frosty pod rot", is rampaging through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America, eliminating some crops altogether. A fourth, "swollen shoot", has taken up residence in Africa,and the fifth, "vascular streak dieback", is confined to Asia.

The one saving grace, says Dr Bryan Bailey, one of the Usda team, is that by and large the diseases affect different areas. But the scientists fear that if they join up they could be far more devastating.

The Mayans and Aztecs, they say, grew cacao trees in isolated orchard groves, which minimised the spread of disease, but today's intensive cultivation has made the crop more vulnerable.

Using fungicides to beat the plagues is costly - and prohibitive because then the crop fetches only a low price - and may damage the rainforest. The best hope, says the team, is to combine a series of measures, including preserving the rainforests, breeding disease-resistant trees, and using natural controls.

In the long term, it adds, there could be "great potential" in biotechnology. But how Bridget Jones, and the rest of us, would react to GM chocolate is another matter.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Exciting career prospect for ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Media Sales - OTE up to £30,000

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935