Mars Inc./USDA-ARS, Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory, Building 011A, Room 328, Beltsville, MD 20705.
Diseases of cacao, Theobroma cacao, account for losses of more than 30% of the potential crop. These losses have caused a steady decline in production and a reduction in bean quality in almost all the cacao-producing areas in the world, especially in small-holder farms in Latin America and West Africa. The most significant diseases are witches' broom, caused by Moniliophthora perniciosa, which occurs mainly in South America; frosty pod rot, caused by M. roreri, which occurs mainly in Central and northern South America; and black pod disease, caused by several species of Phytophthora, which are distributed throughout the tropics. In view of the threat that these diseases pose to the sustainability of the cacao crop, Mars Inc. and their industry partners have funded collaborative research involving cacao research institutes and governmental and nongovernmental agencies. The objective of this global initiative is to develop short- to medium-term, low-cost, environmentally friendly disease-management strategies until disease tolerant varieties are widely available. These include good farming practices, biological control and the rational or minimal use of chemicals that could be used for integrated pest management (IPM). Farmer field schools are used to get these technologies to growers. This paper describes some of the key collaborative partners and projects that are underway in South America and West Africa.