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Climate change could threaten cocoa production: Effects of 2015-16 El Niño-related drought on cocoa agroforests in Bahia, Brazil

Gateau-Rey L., Tanner E.V.J., Rapidel B., Marelli J.P., Royaert S.. 2018. PloS One, 13 (7) : 17 p..

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200454

Climate models predict a possible increase in the frequency of strong climate events such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which in parts of the tropics are the cause of exceptional droughts, these threaten global food production. Agroforestry systems are often suggested as promising diversification options to increase farmers' resilience to extreme climatic events. In the Northeastern state of Bahia, where most Brazilian cocoa is grown in wildlife-friendly agroforests, ENSOs cause severe droughts which negatively affect forest and agriculture. Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is described as being sensitive to drought but there are no field-studies of the effect of ENSO-related drought on adult cocoa trees in the America's; there is one study of an experimentally-imposed drought in Indonesia which resulted in 10 to 46% yield loss. In our study, in randomly chosen farms in Bahia, Brazil, we measured the effect of the 2015¿16 severe ENSO, which caused an unprecedented drought in cocoa agroforests. We show that drought caused high cocoa tree mortality (15%) and severely decreased cocoa yield (89%); the drought also increased infection rate of the chronic fungal disease witches' broom (Moniliophthora perniciosa). Ours findings showed that Brazilian cocoa agroforests are at risk and that increasing frequency of strong droughts are likely to cause decreased cocoa yields in the coming decades. Furthermore, because cocoa, like many crops, is grown somewhat beyond its climatic limits, it and other crops could be the 'canaries in the coalmine' warning of forthcoming major drought effects on semi-natural and natural vegetation.

Mots-clés : theobroma cacao; changement climatique; maladie des plantes; moniliophthora; agroforesterie; sécheresse; brésil; moniliophthora perniciosa

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