CÔTE D’IVOIRE – The rapidly spreading Cacao Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD) threatens cacao harvests in cocoa-producing countries, slashing harvests by up to 50% in some areas. 

The disease has particularly affected West Africa, alarming producers, chocolate companies, and other stakeholders. The region produces more than 50% of the world’s cocoa. 

The current wave was first discovered in late 2023 in Côte d’Ivoire and quickly spread to other cocoa-producing areas in West Africa, prompting the research. 

 Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to the disease, as their livelihoods depend almost entirely on the crop’s success.  

However, the economic effects of the current wave extend beyond small-scale farmers.   

The disease has resulted in up to 50% of harvest losses in Ghana. It has also affected 11 out of 13 cocoa-producing regions in Côte d’Ivoire. 

These losses have significantly impacted the cacao supply to many chocolate companies and have contributed to the recent surge in cocoa prices.  

The disease and delayed rains in early 2024 are the primary causes of the price surge.  

International cocoa prices rose to over US$10,000 in mid-April, a record high.  

In his publication, “Cacao Sustainability: The Case of Cacao swollen-shoot virus co-infection,” Benito Chen-Charpentier highlighted the severity of the current situation affecting the crop.  

The virus, transmitted by mealybugs, attacks the crop’s vascular system, stunting growth and eventually causing death. 

The use of pesticides to control mealybugs has proven ineffective, forcing many farmers to uproot infected crops and plant more resistant cacao varieties.  

Some farmers have also opted to vaccinate trees, an expensive option for small-scale farmers.  

Although the delayed rains have improved cocoa harvests somewhat, true price and market stabilization will only be seen when the virus’ spread is mitigated.  

The publication revealed researchers are currently working on genetic markers to improve varieties. 

The publication also reveals scientists are using mathematical modeling techniques to determine optimum spacing for affected and non-affected crops. 

Although these spacing techniques are still in their experimental stages, results thus far are promising.  

Although prices are predicted to stabilize from September, researchers, governments, farmers, producers, and chocolate companies must still collaborate to mitigate the problem. 

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