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June 22, 2011

Swollen shoot disease advancing in Ivory Coast cocoa belt

by Ange Aboa

Swollen shoot disease, which has hit cocoa crops in central Ivory Coast, is advancing west into the cocoa belt and researchers are still years away from finding tree varieties resistant to the virus, a top government scientist said on June 21.

Tiemoko Yo, director general of National Agricultural Research Centre (CNRA), said the disease had destroyed 80 percent of trees in the growing regions of Sinfra and Bouafle in the past four years, but was now spreading elsewhere.

Sinfra used to produce 45,000 tonnes a year and Bouafle 30,000 tonnes, before an epidemic of swollen shoot infected plantations in these central regions around four years ago, leading many farmers to give up cocoa and plant yams or rubber.

Though the western cocoa belt that produces the lion's share of output had been largely spared, Yo said farmers could no longer count on it being contained there.

Ivory Coast produces around 1.2 million tonnes of cocoa a year, around two thirds of global supply, and is expected to manage a bumper crop of 1.3 million tonnes this year, thanks largely to favourable weather.

Daloa produces about a quarter of national output and Gagnoa usually manages about 80,000 tonnes a year.

A liquidity crunch left many farmers unable to afford treatments for their crops against disease. Fighting in some areas meant plantations were abandoned completely.

As the rainy season comes, farmers are increasingly worried about seasonal pests like black pod disease or swollen shoot.

"For the past two years, we've been doing tests to determine which orchard varieties could be resistant to swollen shoot," Yo said. "But it will be at least three years before our tests give us a clear picture of the right varieties to use."


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