Photo: Frosty pod rot threatens cocoa farms in Latin America
Cocoa farmers in Latin America are battling a hearty opponent that is already on its way to crippling the chocolate industry, as it is a main ingredient in the treat.
Frosty Pod Rot is an invasive disease caused by a fungus first identified in Ecuador in 1917. It has since rapidly spread to other countries throughout Latin America with the exception of Brazil, but the country’s farmers are scrambling to protect their crops. Infested plantations can suffer dramatic yield losses, leading in some cases to complete destruction of the crop.
The disease is spread through spores that travel through the air or by human contact. It arrived in Mexico in 2005, which is the 6-largest producer in the region and the farthest north the disease can travel due to the climate.
In the 1900s, the infestation in Latin American had gotten so bad that healthy cocoa was sent to West Africa. Currently, the Ivory Coast provides one-third of the world’s cocoa, but political turmoil has threatened production.
Latin American government officials, as well as international researchers, have told the farmers that the best defense against the fungus is to use cocoa varieties that are resistant to the disease.
And though governments and food companies such as Nestlé SA and Mars Inc. have invested a substantial amount of money into cocoa genetics and breeding research, a disease-resistant variety has yet to be found.