Deck the halls with boughs of…Vascular-Streak Dieback?

As the supermarkets fill their shelves with an abundance of chocolate in anticipation of the festive season, the supply appears plentiful. For Indonesian cocoa farmers, however, the story is a very different one. 10% of global cocoa output comes from Indonesia, but this year the Indonesian cocoa industry has suffered from outbreaks of Vascular-Streak Dieback (VSD) disease (Oncobasidium theobromae). This has affected crop productivity, and cocoa output is expected to dive to just 400,000 tonnes this year.

Ripening cocoa pods,
image taken from Wikimedia

Indonesia has had especially wet weather this year, despite only now entering the rainy season. These conditions have triggered an outbreak of the fungal Vascular-streak Dieback (VSD) disease, and cocoa production for the autumn months is just a fifth of last year’s. This has been especially apparent on the usually productive Sulawesi island.

The Indonesian Cocoa Association (Askindo) is still hoping for a good recovery next year, but it will not be easy for growers to reach the optimistic targets of a rise to 660,000 tonnes cocoa output. In 2009, $350million was invested in the Indonesian cocoa bean industry, but there are a number of reasons why this has not yet seen a significant increase in production. These include changes to export taxes, the high number of smallholders growing cocoa and the increasing profitability of growing other crops instead.

Indonesian famers have already battled the wet climate and consequential disease outbreaks this year, but 2012 is expected to be even wetter as La Nina hits, perhaps leading to further crop damage. On top of this, once VSD has infected a crop control becomes both difficult and expensive. Methods such as pruning infected parts of the plant has had limited success, and effective fungicides are often too expensive for smallholders.

So this year, as I sit watching repeats of Christmas specials with a box of chocolates in hand, I will be making an effort to appreciate their value a little more. While we will no doubt find ourselves laden in chocolaty goodness once again, those at the other end of the supply chain may not be so lucky.

You can find out more about VSD and see images of the symptoms at Plantwise.


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