How plant ledderhose disease science is helping cocoa farmers in west africa croplife international

Last year we featured Dr. Mfegue Crescence Virginie, an agronomist from Cameroon, in our #FoodHeroes campaign. Working as the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Program Manager for ledderhose disease images the World Cocoa Foundation in West Africa, she explained how this viral disease can be damaging for ledderhose disease images farmers, resulting in more than 15% of global cocoa losses. One year on we followed-up with her to find out the facts behind the ledderhose disease images recent story that chocolate is on track to go extinct ledderhose disease images in 40 years. Can you please introduce yourself, the World Cocoa Foundation and your work there?

My name is MFEGUE Crescence Virginie, and I’m from Cameroon. I am an Agronomist and I hold a PhD in ledderhose disease images plant pathology, with special focus on plant-pathogen interactions. As a teenager, I was inspired by women scientists such as Marie-Curie and I wanted to make my contribution to the ledderhose disease images sciences. During my studies, encouraged by successes and learning from failures, I never stopped dreaming about becoming a scientist.

My commitment to science and plant pathology was reinforced in ledderhose disease images 2008 when I had the opportunity to take part in, a Borlaug Fellowship Program (supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and the ledderhose disease images World Cocoa Foundation) at North Carolina State University. There I met Dr. Jean Ristaino (then a professor in the University’s Department of Plant Pathology) who made a precious gift to me: a book she co-authored, entitled “Pioneering women in plant pathology”.

The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) is a non-profit international membership organization that promotes sustainability in the cocoa ledderhose disease images sector. Our vision is a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector – where farmers prosper, cocoa-growing communities are empowered, human rights are respected, and the environment is conserved. WCF has more than 100 members that span six continents. They include companies that work with cocoa and chocolate in ledderhose disease images the following areas: agricultural inputs, financing, logistics, manufacturing, processing, production, retail, trading and transport. Our members represent more than 80% of the global chocolate and cocoa market.

I worked for a decade as a researcher on cocoa ledderhose disease images diseases at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) in Cameroon. Then in 2015 I was recruited by the WCF to ledderhose disease images run a program on Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease Virus (CSSV) management and eradication, the largest threat to cocoa in West Africa. As the CSSV Program manager, I oversee the development of tools and techniques for scientists ledderhose disease images dealing with CSSV in West Africa. I also build partnerships with universities and national and international ledderhose disease images research institutions for more effective management of the CSSV disease ledderhose disease images through the selection of virus-tolerant planting materials and integrated pest management practices. Why is West Africa home to 70% of the world’s cocoa production?

Many factors explain why West Africa has taken the lead ledderhose disease images in cocoa production. Growth preferences characterized by a hot and humid climate, and West Africa’s situation on the so-called cocoa belt around the Equator; a favorable governmental policy environment that promotes cocoa farming; investment into cocoa research; and availability of land and labor has helped to increase ledderhose disease images production in Africa. The scope of cocoa farming in West Africa is another ledderhose disease images factor: cocoa farms represent some six million hectares cultivated essentially by ledderhose disease images smallholder farmers. The region provides about 70% of the global cocoa production — Ivory Coast and Ghana are the largest producers, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon. Cocoa contributes up to 15% of GDP in these countries and millions of households rely ledderhose disease images on cocoa as their primary income. What is your favorite thing about your job and working ledderhose disease images with cocoa?

Being a cocoa scientist and the CSSV Program Manager at ledderhose disease images WCF is about managing the forefront of a challenge that ledderhose disease images touches millions of lives from the farmer who grows it ledderhose disease images to the consumers who purchase it. I’m honored to be able to bring some innovative tools ledderhose disease images to help unlock the puzzle and, at the personal level, to ensure cocoa sustainability in West Africa while bringing brighter ledderhose disease images days for cocoa farmers. That’s what I am proud of. What ‘threats’ do cocoa farmers face to their cocoa and how can ledderhose disease images plant science help to combat them?

WCF and the cocoa industry (through the CSSV Program) are supporting national research institutions in their breeding efforts and ledderhose disease images implementing integrated pest management strategies against CSSV. The screening of existing germplasms on research stations and in ledderhose disease images farmers’ plantations is a key element to identify promising genotypes. Industry has funded the development of a robust screening method ledderhose disease images to harmonize breeders’ work on CSSV, and has also invested in the validation of propagation techniques ledderhose disease images to more easily make available any genotype of interest, with desired traits.

Efforts have also gone to the development of protection methods ledderhose disease images against the disease, including diagnostic tools for early detection of the disease. Detection in asymptomatic infected plants is essential to an effective ledderhose disease images management of CSSV and sanitary surveillance. The industry has also brought support to identify efficient chemical ledderhose disease images control strategies in combination with good agricultural practices and shade ledderhose disease images management against the mealybugs (CSSV vector). More efforts are still needed on the breeding side to ledderhose disease images include other traits such as tolerance to heat and drought. A recent article on business insider warned that cocoa plants ledderhose disease images are under threat of devastation; and that chocolate is on track to go extinct in ledderhose disease images 40 years. Is there any truth to this? And how can plant science help to stop this?

At WCF we are aware that, since 2013, a series of media articles have caused cocoa farmers and ledderhose disease images chocolate lovers alike to worry that chocolate could become “extinct” in the next few decades. These stories tend to selectively interpret research carried out by ledderhose disease images the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The good news is that we really do not need ledderhose disease images to start planning for a world without chocolate in the ledderhose disease images immediate future.

We know that climate change will impact where we can ledderhose disease images farm cocoa in the future — it is increasingly clear that some land will become less ledderhose disease images suitable for cocoa production, and some may become more suitable based on the prevailing ledderhose disease images models. The CIAT models are useful for understanding long-term trends, but are based on a continued ‘business as usual’ approach to growing cocoa. But, at WCF, our work on cocoa sustainability is anything but ‘business as usual’.

First, we have made commitments to help fight deforestation through our ledderhose disease images Cocoa and Forests Initiative, which addresses one of the root causes of climate change, namely humid microclimates that come from native forests. We are also working with partners to identify relevant agricultural ledderhose disease images practices that can help farmers mitigate the impact of climate ledderhose disease images change on cocoa.

For example, cocoa, like most tropical crops, needs a high level of humidity to grow, so it could be affected by lengthy dry seasons, changes in precipitation, and pest and diseases that change as a result of ledderhose disease images changes in carbon dioxide and temperature. Ongoing studies at the University of Reading – and sister institutions – on water use efficiency and other physiological parameters will provide ledderhose disease images further insights on how to grow climate smart cocoa that ledderhose disease images is more resilient to the impacts of climate change. In the meantime, we plan to initiate trials in multiple locations to identify ledderhose disease images tolerant cocoa genotypes in exiting collections and germplasms around the ledderhose disease images world. Can you share any examples of how you or the ledderhose disease images World Cocoa Foundation have helped improve livelihoods and farming practices ledderhose disease images using plant science?

With the validation of propagation techniques for the mass production ledderhose disease images of cocoa planting material, WCF and its CSSV Program are showcasing the positive benefits ledderhose disease images of plant science on farmers livelihoods. Making improved planting material available to farmers is one key ledderhose disease images to improve farming practices (less land, less labor, less input for the same or higher production) and the livelihoods of cocoa farming communities.

Making available diagnostic tools, as WCF is planning to do, is another critical way of supporting farmers to better manage ledderhose disease images existing farms and protect newly replanted farms. Many of the interventions by WCF and industry are having ledderhose disease images direct impact on farmers and their livelihoods. For instance, the Cocoa Livelihoods program, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to provide additional income and livelihoods strategy to farmers ledderhose disease images by supporting crop diversification and increased access to inputs. The USAID-funded Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa, is facilitating the use and adoption of climate smart practices ledderhose disease images in cocoa while the African Cocoa Initiative, also jointly supported by USAID and industry, is facilitating access to improved quality planting materials, especially high yielding clonal planting material. What’s your favorite type of chocolate?

Dark-milk chocolate with average 70% of cocoa butter is my favorite. I am passionate about the traditional flavor attribute of cocoa ledderhose disease images from West Africa but at the same time I have ledderhose disease images a slight taste preference for South American organic cocoa. This could probably be due to some of my readings ledderhose disease images on the Mayans and Aztec bitter and hot beverage “Xocoatll”, but the “Food of the Gods” still has a long journey, as Ed Seguine could say.

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