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Mars Inc says greater collaboration is needed to tackle the range of pests and diseases that affect cocoa cultivation.

Participating in the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP) 2018, Jean-Philippe Marelli, Integrated Pest Management Director at Mars/USDA Cocoa Laboratory, and Dr David Guest, a member of Mars’ Research Advisory Board, spoke during a panel discussion ‘Chocolate under threat from old and new cacao diseases.’

The session brought together the world’s top cocoa pathogen experts to discuss cocoa diseases and address ways to tackle these complex pathogens.

Jean-Philippe Marelli said “Cocoa is a unique crop that has a diverse range of complicated pathogens and pests, all with complex life cycles.

“Cocoa pathogens – especially species such as Frosty Pod and Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus – need more research. This is why we are at the ICPP, to drive collaboration and share our expertise in science and technology, so that we can help cocoa farmers around the world.”

During the panel, Mars touched on projects it is leading with international research partners, to investigate lesser-known pathogens, so farmers can grow more disease-resistant crops.

One example is its work with the US Department of Agriculture and the University of California, Davis to sequence the genomes of major cocoa pathogens.

All research output from this project will be available in the public domain to enable the development of diagnostics tools. Mars researchers have also turned to epidemiology to help farmers in Latin America predict future pathogen outbreaks, by using data to develop disease models for Witches Broom and Frosty Pod.

Cocoa pathogens are diverse, complex and poorly understood compared with other crop diseases. The livelihoods of 40 million people worldwide are linked to cocoa production, but up to 38 per cent of cocoa crops are lost every year because of fungal, viral or pest problems.

“Human activity poses the biggest threat to spreading these diseases,” Mars claimed, “with potentially catastrophic consequences for the chocolate industry.”

“Minor pathogens and insects that are currently localized, may also become worse with climate change or if they are spread to new environments.”

Mars believes more research is needed to understand these unique diseases – especially Witches Broom and Frosty Pod, which are both responsible for significant losses.

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