“We consider the witches’ broom not a plague, but rather a ‘holy’ broom,” says Rubens de Jesus. “Thanks to it, we are on the land today.” That’s not a sentiment shared by many of de Jesus’s fellow small farmers, who in the 1990s saw their valuable cacao trees devastated by an outbreak of the fungal disease in the south of Brazil’s Bahia state. The outbreak had far-ranging social, environmental and economic repercussions, leaving more than 150,000 farmers unemployed in what had been Brazil’s main cacao-producing region since the 18th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Bahia’s cacao was highly valued on the international market, providing decades of abundance for local landowners known as “colonels,” who exported the crop by the ton every year. In 1989, Moniliophthora perniciosa, the fungus that causes witches’ broom disease (WBD) in cacao trees, was first detected here, and it quickly spread, bringing the boom time to an end. The cacao trees shriveled up and sprouted the abnormal stems that give the disease its name. About 30,000 farms went bankrupt. Yet despite this downturn, there was a bright spot. In the Dois Riachões settlement, home to 150 people in the municipality of Ibirapitanga, the outbreak opened the way for land reform. They mobilized for their land rights and received training and support from institutions, eventually becoming an example of how to overcome adversity. They started selling premium cacao to major brands and achieved freedom, financial independence and food sovereignty. It wasn’t always that…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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