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A worker holds a handful of dry cacao beans ready to sell at the Agropampatar chocolate farm Co-op in El Clavo, Venezuela. Photo: Fernando Llano / AP

Around the world, there is a wide variety of trees bearing cacao pods of different sizes, shapes and colors that can be used to produce chocolate. But as The New York Times' Myles Karp explains, only a few cacao types are broadly cultivated, which narrows the gene pool and puts the crop at risk for disease and environmental changes.

Why it matters: These challenges have made cacao less attractive to producers even though demand for chocolate is increasing — that could mean a shortage in the future.

The threats
  • One of the greatest threats to cacao is the development of a fuzzy white fungal coating, called monilia or frosty pod rot. The fungus spread across Costa Rica during the 1980s, and eventually led exports of cacao beans to plummet 96%.
  • "For me, the cacao industry is in permanent risk, because intentionally or unintentionally this disease could be spread in just one flight," said Wilbert Phillips-Mora, head of the Cacao Genetic Improvement Program at C.A.T.I.E. He added that the uptick in global travel and commerce in the developing world has created new avenues for infection.
  • Climate change could affect the ability of plant pathogens to infect plants and make plants more susceptible to infection.
A potential solution
  • Phillips-Mora studied the "most naturally tolerant and productive cacao trees" in the early 1980s, and by 2006 found a way to breed 6 hybrid cacao trees that on average produce about 3 times more than the standard types.
  • One of his hybrids, called C.A.T.I.E.-R6 experiences roughly a 5% frosty pod rot infection rate, compared to 75% for a control variety. C.A.T.I.E. hybrids are now grown in all of Central America, as well as in Mexico and Brazil.
  • The silver lining: "Whatever fungal mutation may arise, wherever drought may strike, however chocolate tastes may change — there will likely be cacao genes somewhere in the collection that can form the basis of new hybrids to meet future challenges," writes Karp.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

The latest: Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.

Hollywood union reaches deal with studios to avert strike

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A Hollywood workers' union reached a tentative deal with studios, networks and streamers that will guarantee better working conditions, meal breaks and increased wages for low-paid workers, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced Saturday night.

Why it matters: The deal, which still needs to be ratified by IATSE members, will avert a nationwide strike by film and television workers that was set to start Monday. It would have been the first strike in the union's 128-year history.

Bill Clinton released from hospital following treatment for non-COVID infection

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton was discharged from the University of California, Irvine Medical Center on Sunday, nearly a week after he was admitted for a non-COVID-related infection, according to his spokesperson Angel Ureña.

What they're saying: "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," wrote Dr. Alpesh Amin, who has been overseeing the team of doctors treating Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Worth noting: Clinton had a urinary tract infection that spread to his bloodstream, per CNN.

  • The California-based medical team had been administering IV antibiotics and fluids, and was in constant communication with Clinton's New York team, including his cardiologist, according to the former president's physicians.
  • President Biden spoke by phone with Clinton on Friday to see how he was doing, and the catch-up included a discussion of recent politics.

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