Cocoa disease threat triggers Brazilian ban on green coffee imports from Peru

By Vladimir Pekic

- Last updated on GMT

Brazil suspends green coffee imports from Peru to prevent infection of cocoa crop with Moniliasis
Brazil suspends green coffee imports from Peru to prevent infection of cocoa crop with Moniliasis

Related tags: Cocoa, Brazil

A major sanitary threat to Brazil’s cocoa crop has prompted Brazilian authorities to suspend green (arabica) coffee imports from Peru indefinitely.

Brazil’s cocoa growers welcomed the suspension because it will reduce the risk of introducing devastating frosty pod rot disease (moniliasis) to cocoa. The disease is currently limiting expansion of cocoa plantations in Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Peru and threatens the survival of existing ones.

Brazil is still free from Moniliophthora roreri fungi, a Basidiomycete fungus that causes frosty pod rot disease. Should the disease gain a foothold in Brazil, it could seriously decimate the country’s cocoa yields.

Although a serious pathogen in Latin America, Moniliophthora roreri is still not a global threat due to its limited distribution to Latin America, which means it is absent from major producing regions in Africa and Asia. Should this continental barrier be breached, global cocoa supplies would be threatened.

The disease, which can reduce yields by over 80% within a few years of pathogen establishment, causes severe losses, and occasionally even complete crop failure thus frequently rendering cocoa production economically unfeasible in certain environments.

Coffee link proved

The decision to ban coffee imports from Peru, announced by the phytosanitary department of Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Production and Supplies (MAPA), was officially published in Brazil’s state gazette Diário Oficial da União (DoU) on May 21.

The ban on coffee imports was approved after Brazil's National Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil (CNA) conducted an analysis proving that green coffee shipments could be a vehicle for the dissemination of the Moniliophthora roreri fungi.

The suspension of the official authorization for imports of Arabica coffee from Peru … had a decisive participation of the CNA, in the form of a technical study sent to the MAPA​,” said the CNA in a statement. Brazil’s Federal Cocoa Production Commission (CEPLAC) also had an important role to play in the process that culminated with the suspension of the Peruvian coffee imports.

Imports of green arabica coffee from Peru had been authorized by MAPA in late April, but the decision led to a backlash from coffee and cocoa producers in Brazil.

It is not fair to put Brazilian agriculture in jeopardy, by liberating imports without the proper safety measures in place​,” said Octaciano Neto, state agriculture secretary in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. The state, which is a cocoa growing area, is located immediately to the south of the main cocoa growing region of Brazil’s largest cocoa producer - Bahia.

According to the MAPA decision, the suspension is going to stay in place until Peru’s phytosanitary organization SENASA presents the Brazilian government with a satisfactory risk mitigation plan to prevent transfer of plant diseases with contaminated shipments of green coffee.

Cocoa sector already contracting

An outbreak of moniliasis could spell a fatal blow for Brazil’s cocoa producing sector that is already expected to contract over the next ten years. Cocoa production in Brazil is set to fall to around 216,000 metric tons (MT) in 2023/24, according to a long-term agribusiness forecast issued by MAPA late last year. The ceiling value (optimistic scenario) of cocoa production in Brazil for 2023/24 is 392,000 MT while the floor value (pessimistic scenario) is 40,000t, according to the report.

The harvested area with cocoa is expected to average 679,000 ha in 2023/24, although it could range from 518,000 ha (lower limit) to 839,000 ha (upper limit), according to MAPA’s long-term forecast.

Brazil is expected to harvest 260,175 MT  of cocoa beans in 2015, down 10.9% from the 291,868 MT that the country produced in 2014. A large part of the drop is attributable to a lower harvested acreage that will fall to 639,990 ha in 2015, down 9.1% from 703,901 ha in the previous year, according to Brazil’s federal statistics department IBGE.

Average cocoa bean yields are expected to drop to 407 kg per ha in 2015, down from 415 kg per ha last year.

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