Bugs beware: quick test for fatal cacao disease developed

Tuesday, 05 October, 2021

Bugs beware: quick test for fatal cacao disease developed

Swiss agriculture-testing company SwissDeCode has teamed up with food giant Mars Wrigley to produce a testing kit that can detect cacao swollen shoot disease (CSSD) in asymptomatic trees which in turn should lead to healthier crops with higher yields. The field testing kits were developed using SwissDeCode’s DNAFoil technology, with research about farmer needs contributed by Mars Wrigley.

Cacao swollen shoot disease has been a consistent thorn in the side of cacao farmers in West Africa as it can reduce the yield of crops by up to 70% and leads to the death of large numbers of crops. The virus that causes the disease in cacao plants is spread through mealybugs and until now there has been difficulty in testing for the virus in asymptomatic plants, with no quick method of doing so.

A cure for infected and symptomatic plants does not exist so a method of easily detecting the disease prior to it becoming symptomatic — which results in the plants’ deaths and the relocation or destruction of neighbouring trees — is an important way of reducing its impact.

The new testing system enables field personnel to test a plant’s leaves for the virus and get results within 60 minutes, instead of waiting years for the plant to become symptomatic. Having a full knowledge of crop health with regard to the disease will allow farmers to more effectively utilise their land while also reducing deforestation, as the process of planting and destroying cacao trees is the only method of actively managing the disease. This will lead to a more sustainable operation for both farmers and chocolate producers. The latter may also benefit from lower costs thanks to the increase in yields brought about if there is a widespread adoption of the testing kits.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/tong2530

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