News / Africa

Scientists Unravel Chocolate's Genetic Code

Small farmers expected to benefit from better cacao trees

Scientists have unraveled the genetic code of chocolate, which could lead to an improved yield for farmers worldwide whose livelihoods depend on seeds from the cacao tree.
Scientists have unraveled the genetic code of chocolate, which could lead to an improved yield for farmers worldwide whose livelihoods depend on seeds from the cacao tree.

Multimedia

Audio

Chocolate lovers around the world take note: two separate groups of scientists have unraveled the genetic code of your favorite sweet.

It's good news for the millions of small farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America whose livelihoods depend on the seeds of the cacao tree.

Candy is serious business. The world's top-10 confectioners sold more than $40 billion of it in 2005.

But many of the more than five million farmers worldwide who produce cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, are living in poverty.

Yield gap

One reason for that is that their farms are not very productive, according to Howard-Yana Shapiro, head of plant research for the US-based candy giant, Mars Inc. Shapiro says the average West African cacao tree farmer produces only about 400 kilograms of cocoa beans per hectare.

Each year farmers lose about a third of their harvest to pests and fungal diseases. The genome data is expected to help relieve the problem.
Each year farmers lose about a third of their harvest to pests and fungal diseases. The genome data is expected to help relieve the problem.

"There's a yield potential of maybe 4,000 kilos, 10 times what the average is in West Africa," he says. "We saw the disparity."

To reduce that disparity, Mars helped fund a project to sequence the genome of the cacao tree. The Mars project sequenced the most common variety. French researchers led a separate effort focusing on the high-quality Criollo variety.

Cocoa disease

Genome data is expected to help with some of the most common problems facing cacao growers. Each year farmers lose about a third of their harvest to pests and fungal diseases, says Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, an industry-sponsored group promoting sustainable cocoa farming.

"This type of program we feel is going to be very beneficial in helping to breed trees that are more tolerant or resistant against some of the fungal pests," he says. And with better productivity, he adds, farmers can earn more money and improve their social conditions.

Many of the five million farmers worldwide who produce cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, are living in poverty.
Many of the five million farmers worldwide who produce cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, are living in poverty.

Mars team leader Shapiro says it's a win-win both for the company and for cocoa farmers.

"We want to be in business sustainably in the future. We want to have certified cocoa that is sustainably grown. We want the farmers to have a sustainable life. We don't want them to all have to move to the city."

The genome data will be publically available without restrictions or patents. Shapiro expects improved cacao trees to start reaching farmers in about three years.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid