Australian confectionary giant Mars Wrigley has teamed up with the University of Queensland to save the world’s chocolate supply, which is under threat from cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV)—a disease affecting cocoa crops.
Mars Wrigley has donated over $100,000 to the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences for an initial six months of research into technology that could help cocoa farmers in Africa fight the disease that’s devastated many cocoa plantations in western Africa, impacting cocoa yields.
CSSV infects cacao trees, affects their leaves and roots, and decreases cacao yields by a quarter within the first year of infection. The virus then kills the tree within a few years.
It has the potential to lead to a regional extinction of cocoa plants, which could have a devastating impact on some of the world’s poorest farmers. The collaboration between Mars Wrigley and the University of Queensland will save cocoa crops and prevent a serious decrease in the world’s chocolate supply.
The partnership will fund the technology required to help small scale cocoa farmers in Africa by aiding diagnostics needed to get it under control early.
For eight years, UQ has been working on the development of a ‘dipstick’ technology, which can diagnose pathogens in the field in 30 seconds—a process that used to take two to three hours and required a lab and trained technicians.
The diagnostic device is not much bigger than a coffee cup and can be powered by a car charger. Although the test still needs to be adapted for each specific disease, the previously expensive sampling process now costs less than one cent per test.
Professor Jimmy Botella and Dr Michael Mason said that as the disease becomes ever more rampant in western Africa, where currently around 75 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans are grown, it’s important to get it under control early.
“In Cote d’Ivoire alone, there are 600,000 farmers producing cocoa and six million people working in the industry, so it’s critical we take control of this disease, and soon,” Professor Botella said.