Mars Wrigley collaborates with SwissDeCode on testing system for cocoa swollen shoot disease

A significant collaboration has been confirmed between Mars Wrigley and agrifood company SwissDeCode for on-site testing designed to detect Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease (CSSD) in asymptomatic trees in less than 60 minutes, reports Neill Barston.

According to the Swiss-based business, viral infections among key industry crops have been a problem for decades, impacting on the sector significantly, reducing yields by up to 70% in extreme cases. Notably, until now, no efficient methods to quickly address the issue had been implemented.

The Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease is transmitted by mealybugs from infected to healthy cocoa trees, with Ghana and Ivory Coast particularly affected, where over 780,000 hectares of cocoa trees are believed to be infected.

Cocoa trees affected by CSSD can be asymptomatic for up to 2 years, but then they start to show symptoms such as red leaf veins or swollen stems and roots, and typically die within 3-4 years of symptom development. Sick trees cannot be cured, and the disease can only be managed by preventing further spread to healthy trees, for example by planting barrier crops or cutting out infected trees entirely.

However, the new solution builds on SwissDeCode’s DNAFoil proprietary technology, and incorporating underlying research from Mars Wrigley. It offers an easy-to-perform testing kit that would enable field personnel to quickly test cocoa trees, using their leaves as samples.

The test would enable farmers to detect infected trees, even before they show any symptoms, and to take immediate action to prevent the spread of the virus to healthy trees, thus helping to safeguard their current and future income.

The new rapid test provides an opportunity to benefit not only cocoa farms but also cocoa tree nurseries, as it enables monitoring of tree health on a regular basis, and the release of planting materials only when they are substantially free of the virus. Finally, replanting infected areas and regenerating old farms can be conducted with greater peace of mind, helping farmers increase both yields and income while preventing deforestation.

For the development of the new solution, SwissDeCode has partnered with Mars Wrigley, who, for a long time, has been advancing crop science to improve cocoa production across the globe. This successful collaboration has allowed SwissDeCode to understand the specific issues and requirements of end users, from cocoa farmers to trading organisations. Once field validations have been successfully completed, the kit will be ready for large scale use.

Seeing that the result of our work helps to solve an issue that is impacting 14 million families makes us immensely proud. We are also making cocoa farming more sustainable, by preventing large-scale deforestation caused by recurring infections.”

Brij Sahi, CEO & Co-Founder, SwissDeCode, said: “We have been looking for reliable preventive solutions against CSSD since the 1940s, as each year cocoa farms are being increasingly affected by this virus. Joining forces with SwissDeCode, we have finally found a rapid and reliable on-site diagnostic!”



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