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Vaccine for cocoa trees could save West Africa's chocolate trade

Vaccine for cocoa trees could save West Africa's chocolate trade


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A rapidly spreading virus is threatening the health of cocoa trees and the dried seeds from which chocolate is made, putting the global supply of the world's most popular sweet at risk.

Approximately 50% of the world's chocolate is produced from cocoa trees in West Africa's Ivory Coast and Ghana. This harmful virus is attacking cocoa trees in Ghana, resulting in crop losses of 15-50%. Cocoa swelling bud virus disease (CSSVD), spread by tiny insects called mealybugs that feed on the leaves, buds, and flowers of trees, is one of the most harmful threats to chocolate's root components.

Benito Chen Charpentier, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Arlington and author of “Cacao Sustainability: The Case of Cocoa Swollen Buds and Viral Co-infections'' It's a real threat to the country.” ” in the diary PLoS One. “Pesticides are ineffective against mealybugs, so farmers try to prevent the spread of the disease by cutting down infected trees or breeding resistant trees. However, Ghana has lost more than 254 million cocoa trees in recent years.

Farmers can combat mealybugs by inoculating trees with viruses by vaccinating them. But vaccines are expensive, especially for low-wage farmers, and vaccinated trees produce less cocoa, making the damage caused by the virus even worse.

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Chen-Charpentier and colleagues at the University of Kansas, Prairie View A&M, University of South Florida and the Ghana Cocoa Institute have developed a new strategy. The idea is to use mathematical data to determine how far farmers can plant vaccinated trees to prevent mealybug infestations. They spread the virus by jumping from one tree to another.

“Mealybugs have several ways of getting around, including moving from canopy to canopy, being carried by ants, and being blown by the wind,” Chen-Charpentier said. “What we needed to do was create a model for cocoa farmers to vaccinate unvaccinated trees to prevent the spread of the virus while making costs more manageable for smallholders. The goal was to be able to know how far away a tree could be safely planted.”

By experimenting with mathematical patterning techniques, the team created two different types of models that allow farmers to create a protective layer of vaccinated cocoa trees around unvaccinated trees. .

“Although still , these models are exciting because they can help farmers protect their crops while achieving better yields,” Chen Charpentier said. “It’s good for farmers’ bottom lines, and it’s good for the world’s chocolate addiction.”

reference: August FB, Leite MCA, Owusu-Ansah F, Domfeh O, Hritonenko N, Chen-Charpentier B. Cocoa sustainability: A case of co-infection with cocoa swollen bud virus. pro swan. 2024;19(3):e0294579. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0294579

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