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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 19:36 GMT 20:36 UK
Mars battles against cocoa pest
Sweets manufactured by Masterfoods
Many Mars products are global brands
Confectionery giant Mars is fighting a battle against a tiny moth with a penchant for cocoa - a key ingredient in the manufacture of chocolate.

The insect is causing major concern in Asia where about 17% of the world's cocoa is produced.

Mars has now sent a team to Papua New Guinea after an outbreak of the cocoa pod borer moth was found.

Adhesive traps baited with synthetic female sex pheromones are being used to lure male moths to try to cut numbers.

The moth lays its eggs on the cocoa pods which the larvae then eat into.

"They chew up all the internal mechanisms of the pod and so the cocoa beans do not develop, or they develop very poorly," said Roger Dehnel, cocoa sustainability director at Mars.

"This pod burrowing really is a threat to the whole of cocoa production across Asia."

Devastating impact

Among the worst affected countries has been Malaysia, which saw cocoa output fall 75% due to the problem.

And the pest is expected to hit about a quarter of Indonesia's 400,000 tonne annual cocoa crop for 2006 - resulting in around $150m in lost produce.

Papua New Guinea grows around 40,000 tonnes of cocoa each year. The crop is its second largest export after coffee.

Mars, the firm that makes M&M's and Snickers as well as the Mars bar, would not reveal how much of its cocoa was sourced from there.

But it said it was important to preserve the "diversity" of the range of cocoa available.

"Papua New Guinea cocoa is quite well-renowned for its flavour. It find its way all over the world," Mr Dehnel said.

Farmers in Papua New Guinea are working with Mars and aid agencies to fight the small but deadly insect.

Besides the "honey trap" method, which uses synthetically produced female sex hormones, other techniques being tested include low-grade pesticides.

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