Posted by: r.m. | April 8, 2009

chocolate trees in trouble

In my search for good news, I found an article on chocolate.  But it is not good. not good news.

Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted seeds of the cacao tree. The cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV) can kill the trees, and threatens to slash this year’s spring crop by a third in the world’s biggest producer, Ivory Coast. Meanwhile a fungus called witches’ broom is doing the same in Brazil. Now researchers are racing to sequence the cacao genome and find genes that can resist CSSV. …”Increasingly cacao is grown almost as a monoculture,” says Paul Hadley of the University of Reading, UK. That promotes the spread of disease, as does the trend towards growing the trees in drier regions – water-stressed cacao trees are less able to fight off disease.”

Article in full here

Here’s one comment from that site that I salute: “How about instead of messing with the genetics for these plants, why not make trading fairer for these African farmers so that they have the money to maintain their farms properly. I can’t understand why we should be messing with genetics when the real problem is poverty. How many people in the developed world eat & enjoy chocolate, yet find it acceptable to make these farmers work in such horrible conditions. Can’t we just pay a little extra for our chocolate & have the comforting knowledge that everyone is getting a fair deal plus the peace of mind that the cocoa & plants are of good quality. It really is as simple as that

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Responses

  1. The rapid pace of technological innovation in the genetic field has enabled geneticts to find a new interesting strategy to save the cacao trees from being invaded by CSSV. The strategy is based on sequencing the cacao genome and finding genes that can resist CSSV. However, the only hope with such process is to race time before CSSV damages lots of cacao trees and thus it would be late to execute any solution. I can’t imagine my life without chocolate 😛 so let’s hope that geneticts will succeed in their approach.

    Furthermore, the article mentioned that with the increase of chocolate demand and with the inability of the farmers to afford expensive fertilizers, they are boosting production by cutting down other trees that normally grow between cacao crops and planting more cacao trees over a greater area. I guess researchers should also try to find a way through genetics to boost plant production without the need to go back to the use of fertilizers or damaging the nature heritage.

    One point I would like to add is that the comment found on the site confused me because I couldn’t understand how we should be concerned about poverty more than saving cacao trees from being infected. Poverty is a critical issue to be solved but working out on other problems may imply the solution to poverty. Basically, poverty is due to the excessive increase in population versus a limited amount of resources. So managing the overpopulation or increasing the amount of resources could be the key to cope with poverty. By saving trees from infection we are helping the farmer to save their cultivation and thus their source of gaining money. Genetics applications seem a promising way to achieve that. Morally speaking, yes farmers deserve to work with better condition by creating a “trading fairer for these African farmers so that they have the money to maintain their farms properly”. But environmentally speaking, trading fairer suggestion won’t save the problem of poverty because it will not prevent cacao plants from being invaded by the CSSV or any other fungus and thus there will be a negative impact on productivity which would lead to serious crisis in the prices and therefore the farmer would be suffering in coping with the increase in prices in life. Therefore, it will simply aggravate poverty dilemma. So the real problem is how to save trees from being killed and not poverty. If we succeed to save cacao tree through genetics we would be preventing in some way poverty because we would be increasing the amount of crops and as a consequence, the farmer will afford the money to live and mostly we would be saving the nature from pollution due to chemicals used in agriculture.


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