New Frontiers in the Fight Against Deadly Cocoa Disease

Author Virginie Crescence Mfegue

Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Program Manager
World Cocoa Foundation

Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSV) is a viral disease endemic to West Africa that was first identified in Ghana in the mid-1930s.  By some estimates, the disease annually destroys as much as 15% of global cocoa production. CSSV’s impact is felt most strongly at the farm level, where it can wipe out all the cocoa trees on an entire farm and deprive farmers of most, if not all, of their income.

West Africa produces more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. Since its first appearance, CSSV has spread throughout the region, threatening the crop at both national and regional levels and jeopardizing the livelihoods of an estimated four million smallholder cocoa farmers. Despite national efforts to control the disease through ambitious eradication strategies, West African countries are facing increasing disease prevalence and the virus’ spread is unhindered by man-made country borders.  Cocoa experts are increasingly aware that a regional approach is urgently needed to effectively combat the disease.

On October 28, 2016, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) convened regional cocoa research scientists, government policymakers, multilateral donor institution officials and representatives of the chocolate and cocoa industry for an intensive day-long consultation in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer. The meeting attracted participants from the five major cocoa producing countries in West and Central Africa – Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. The group closely examined the current status of the disease in the region, as well as progress made thus far in researching various methods to control it. Importantly, they discussed a possible framework for a unified regional approach to fighting the disease. Read the official communique from the meeting in French and English.

WCF President Richard Scobey appealed to the group to build on the work of previous consultations, such as a 2013 meeting in Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, and another at Kpalimé, Togo, in 2009. Participants expressed a strong desire to help farmers by accelerating the application of proven research in the field.

The October meeting broke new ground when policymakers both acknowledged that CSSV is a regional crisis and endorsed the sharing of research findings, specifically regarding CSSV-resistant and/or tolerant planting material. They also gave a green light to the development of a cross-border action plan. Through this action plan, WCF intends to amplify and extend its work on combatting CSSV under CocoaAction, the industry’s plan for accelerating sustainability in the cocoa sector. Through these efforts, it is hoped that a solid foundation has been laid for protecting the world’s leading source of cocoa.

Dr. Mfegue was recently named a #FoodHero by WCF Member CropLife International.