Pest management for your sweetie: Cacao Pesticide Public Relations poster–Thoughts?

22 Mar
A Russell Stovers box of milk chocolates.

A Russell Stovers box of milk chocolates. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2-ValentinesPoster

An industry poster (above) shows a picture of a heart-shaped box of chocolates with all but one of the chocolates missing, a vivid depiction of the impact of pests, particularly a fungus commonly known as black pod disease, has on this tropical crop where no pest control is applied. The poster advocates for “modern agricultural approaches”, implying that the chemical industry should be thanked for the rest of the box of chocolates in the image, the chocolate harvest to which we have become accustomed (example at right).

I researched the pest management options available to cacao growers and found that black pod disease is one of the primary pests in cacao, resistant varieties of the crop are not resistant enough to ward off the disease, beneficial fungi such as Trichoderma give about 50% control of the pest, but fungicides like Kocide give almost complete control of the pest.
title=”Deberdt2008CacaoIPMarticle”>http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/scientific-research/research-library/documents/Deberdt2008.pdf

FAQ:
1. What is this fungicide, Kocide? Copper Hydroxide.

2. Who makes it and what kinds of precautions should be taken when using this material? This is a basic salt of copper and it is most hazardous if you inhale it, causing lung and kidney problems. It is also very hazardous to inhale as a gas if it were exposed to fire. Handlers should wear long sleeves and protection against breathing the wettable powder or the spray.

3. Does it harm nontarget species? How long does it stick around? Copper hydroxide is very toxic to aquatic invertebrates like daphnia, the classic ‘canary in the coal mine’ of water bugs. This substance should not get into waterways, and empty containers need to be disposed of as hazardous waste because it is a heavy metal and is regulated as hazardous waste. Copper binds tightly to the soil and may reside there for a long time in a not-very available form, but repeated use of this pesticide might result in buildup of this naturally occurring metal in the soil.

OP-ED: What are the implications for chocolate growers around the world?
Deberdt’s article mentions that most farmers in Cameroon, a cacao growing country, cannot afford the chemical fungicide and may experience up to 100% loss of their crop, validating the poster’s depiction of the losses that the untreated disease can cause. Copper hydroxide is a real option for improving yields and livelihoods of these farmers and they probably would use it if they could afford it. Biological controls like beneficial fungi might be a good compromise because they have some carry-over effects to the following year, so farmers can buy them every few years and get some relief from the black pod disease. I actually do agree with this industry poster and feel that this particular fungicide, if used away from waterways and if care is taken to prevent inhaling this product, can make a big difference in the lives of growers and I will still eat cacao!

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One Response to “Pest management for your sweetie: Cacao Pesticide Public Relations poster–Thoughts?”

  1. diadasia April 1, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    It’s not just the pesticides themselves that are the problem with cacao farming. Often times there is a lack of education among the workers about how to use these pesticides safely, so safety precautions are not taken, and often environmental mitigation efforts also do not take place. The practice of leaving piles of husks creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes that vector a variety of deadly diseases, such as malaria. In addition, a lot of cacao farmers tend to rapidly increase the borders of their fields, destroying natural rainforest. Speaking of which, a lot of cacao is grown in former rainforest where there are high levels of rainfall– how will they keep this fungicide away from waterways? Like you, I love my chocolate, but unfortunately cacao farming practices in places like Indonesia have a long way to go before they can be considered sustainable.

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