Mapping Software to Track Diseases in Cacao

Diseases in cacao has been a problem for centuries that farmers have had to deal with. Tropical countries such as Brazil have suffered years of yield loss and profit loss. According to an article that was published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, there is a new study that says it is possible to track disease development in cacao with a special mapping software. In this study, Ninety-five microsatellites and 775 single nucleotide polymorphisms were assessed on 483 unique trees in the International Cocoa Genebank Trinidad. It concluded that this association mapping study in cacao would contribute to the knowledge of the genetic determinism of cocoa traits and that the markers identified would prove useful in marker assisted breeding of cacao. By using this technique in cacao farms, the damage caused by common pests and diseases of Cacao will decrease.

Disease and pests are some of the biggest issues for cacao. For this reason, most of the world’s cacao is grown on small farms of less than two hectares (five acres) instead of large plantations. This way, if there is a breakout, it will only effect some of the farm instead of all. The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) estimates that demand for cacao will exceed supply in 2020, by a potential 1-million ton deficit. [1]  Below are some facts about disease and pests of cacao.

Major Diseases of Cacao [2]

cacaodiseasechart

Pests

  • Common insect pests
    • Broad mite
    • Flower-eating caterpillars
    • Helopeltis
    • Yellow peach moth

Black pod disease is one of the most common diseases of cacao. It is caused by a fungus (Phytophthora) that spreads rapidly on the pods under conditions of excessive rain and humidity, insufficient sunshine, and temperatures below 21 °C (70 °F). [3] Symptoms of the disease are an appearance of a small shiny spot, about two days after infection. Afterwards, the spot turns a brown color, then darkens as it spreads throughout the entire pod.

Another common disease of cacao is Witches’ Broom, caused by the fungus known as Moniliophthora perniciosa. Once an area is infected with this disease, it can result in a yield reduction of 50%-90%. [4]  Infected trees produce branches with no fruit and ineffective leaves. Another visible characteristic of infected trees is, the pods show distortion and present green patches that give the appearance of uneven ripening.  One of the reasons why Witches’ Broom is detrimental is, it can tolerate high levels of fungicides, and there is no known treatment for it. Therefore, once an area becomes infected, it will only be a matter of time before it is completely destroyed. This can be seen in the case of Brazil, where the introduction of the disease in the region of Bahia caused a decrease in production of almost 70% during a period of 10 years. [5]

Although cacao trees continue to be infected by diseases such as Black Pod and Witches’ Broom, modern day technology has been successful at keeping it at bay. One company that is doing this successfully is Singapore-based IoT [6] solution provider BioMachines. They designed a wireless sensor network system to measure environmental parameters in the cocoa fields of Indonesia. The company collects environmental data from laboratory and field-based experiments, and transfers the knowledge to cocoa farmers. By incorporating technology such as the service provided by BioMachines, cacao farmers will be able to decrease the damage done by pests and diseases. Hopefully, by 2020, the 1-million-ton deficit predicted by the ICCO will be minimized.

References:

[1] http://www.libelium.com/sustainable-farming-and-the-iot-cocoa-research-station-in-indonesia/

[2] https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/plants/fruit-and-vegetables/fruit-and-nuts/other-fruit-crops/pests-and-diseases-of-cocoa

[3] https://www.britannica.com/plant/cacao#ref710340

[4] http://www.plantcell.org/content/26/11/4231.full#ref-2

[5] http://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/pest-a-diseases.html

[6] Internet Of Things – http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/05/13/simple-explanation-internet-things-that-anyone-can-understand/#5c1af0436828

 

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