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.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Kaine Project Optimism in First Joint Campaign Event

    Kaine, a moderate, has potential to attract voters repelled by Donald Trump and those who may have a hard time fully embracing Clinton

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora