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Plant diseases threaten chocolate production worldwide

Chocolate lovers, beware. Each year 20 percent of the cacao beans that are used to make chocolate are lost to plant diseases, but even greater losses would occur if important diseases spread.

"Plant diseases are the most important constraints to cacao production and the continued viability of the world’s confectionary trades," said Randy Ploetz, plant pathology professor at the University of Florida, Homestead, FL. Currently, 4 million metric tons of beans worth more than $4 billion are produced each year. The global chocolate market is worth $75 billion annually.

According to Ploetz, the three most important and damaging cacao diseases are black pod, frosty pod, and witches’ broom. Black pod occurs worldwide and has the largest impact, while frosty pod and witches’ broom are restricted to tropical America.

"Frosty pod and witches’ broom would devastate cacao production in West Africa, where almost 70 percent of all production occurs," said Ploetz. "In this region, either disease could reduce yields by an additional one million more metric tons per year," he said.

New insights and current research on cacao diseases, as well as resistance to and management of the diseases, will be addressed during the Cacao Diseases: Important Threats to Chocolate Production Worldwide symposium held July 30 from 1:30-5 p.m., during the joint annual meeting of The American Phytopathological Society, Canadian Phytopathological Society, and the Mycological Society of America. The joint meeting will be held July 29–August 2, 2006, at the Centre des Congrès de Québec, Québec City, Québec, Canada.

Amy Steigman | EurekAlert!
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