Twin blow for Idukki cocoa farmers; fungal disease ruins fruits as prices fall

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For a while, the cocoa farmers in Idukki thought they were living a dream. Prices soared, demand upped and many farmers made it big, not anymore. With the arrival of the rainy season, the fruits have been infected by black fungal disease. The prices have also fallen. The first symptom of the disease is chocolate-colored spots on the outer skin of cocoa pods. These spots quickly spread throughout the fruit.

As the disease progresses, filaments and spores of the fungus appear on the surface of the infected fruit. Eventually, the whole surface of the fruit turns dark brown leading to further discolouration and eventually the fruit falls off. Idukki District Agriculture Office has directed the farmers to do regular inspection and removal of infected fruits to prevent the spread of the disease. Cocoa is an agricultural crop that can be harvested every week.

Weekly income is a big relief for the farmers and they depend it on heavily to meet their daily expenses. The rapidly spreading fungal infection has badly affected the farmers. In the month of April, the price of Cocoa peaked to Rs 800 per kg from Rs 210. It was a record price. Now the price has dropped to Rs 515 per kg. Farmers said that if they get Rs 500 per kg, they can carry on farming profitably.” But with the plants being infected with black spot disease, we hardly have any produce,” a farmer said.

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