Saving the Source of Chocolate

24 March 2006
Next to gold, cocoa trees - the source of chocolate - stand among Ghana's treasures.  Nuclear science is helping them fight a killer virus.Ms. Juliana Peasah, a cocoa farmer in central Ghana, stands among the trees that are her family's livelihood. Her cocoa trees are healthy and productive, she says, resistant to a virus that destroys millions of cocoa trees each year in Ghana.Mr. Seth Osei Yaw, a senior technical officer at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), checks cocoa trees as part of field trials to develop a hardier variety that is resistant to the cocoa swollen shoot virus. Attempts to control the disease are costly, but essential in Ghana, one of the world's top cocoa producers. The IAEA and UN Food and Agriculture Organization are partners in helping Ghana develop hardier cocoa trees.In the villages of Ghana, cocoa pods are harvested from the tree trunks and cut open to release the brown-red beans. The whole beans are then dried in the sun before they are packed into sacks for the market. Beating the cocoa tree virus is tied to the country's economic future. Ghana produces nearly 500,000 tonnes of cocoa beans a year, the second highest production in the world. Cocoa alone accounts for almost 40% - or US $800 million - of Ghana's total exports of US $2 billion a year. The earnings are second only to the country's exports of gold.The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana, in the village of Tafo, is home to research efforts vital to the country's cocoa industry. Among their activities, scientists there use plant breeding techniques to develop cocoa strains resistant to disease. Varieties induced using gamma-radiation techniques today are growing on 25 farms across Ghana, with no sign of the dreaded swollen shoot virus.Sacks of cocoa beans from Ghana, bound for markets to make chocolate and cocoa products. Worldwide, chocolate consumption tops billions of kilograms a year - figures show that Europeans alone consume about 40% of the world's cocoa each year, nearly all of it imported from Ghana and other countries of West Africa.Earnings from five hectares of cocoa trees have raised the standard of living for Ms. Juliana Peasah's family in Tafo, Ghana, helping them to build a more comfortable life. Their top priority is to keep the trees healthy and resistant to pests and the swollen shoot disease. 'It appears we now have a variety that can help us stop the spread of this destructive virus,' she says.
Last update: 24 October 2014