‘These are two societies fighting over the same plant — two households, both alike in dignity.’

I can’t recommend highly enough, the latest by Ed Yong in Aeon on the battle against CSSV and black pod disease in cocoa trees in Ghana.

Other scientists are mining the cocoa genome for variants that are resistant to major pathogens. It’s the modern take on Posnette’s approach, but supercharged by the power of modern genetics. Still, resistant strains would only ever be a temporary solution. As P infestans has shown, pathogens will always evolve around resistance, as surely as they skip through quarantines. ‘I think breeding resistant varieties is a slow response to the amount of movement. We have to come up with something better,’ Aime said.

Hughes thinks the answer lies in ecology. Diseases don’t happen in a vacuum. They come from somewhere. They are spread by things. They interact with one other. Targeting a single cocoa pathogen is too reductionist — by studying all of them together, Hughes hopes to work out the weak link in their ensemble. Maybe it’s the ants? Working with Ghanaian scientists, Hughes has been experimenting with different ways of disrupting these insect farmers, through the killing of their queens, the use of insecticide or killer fungi, and even craft genetic tools that can switch off ants’ genes.

There’s much, much more.

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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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