IBM worms its way into African economy... with chocolate

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The latest corporate giant trying to get its teeth into Africa has come up with a novel approach: woo the locals with chocolate.

Chocolate research that is. IBM reckons that by setting up a project which aims to map out the genome of the cocoa plant, helping boffins better understand how to protect it from drought and disease, the firm will win over the African people’s affections, and be able to cash in on a huge developing market.

IBM has already purportedly coughed up some $120 million for African infrastructure over the past couple of years and has also just recently opened the first African cloud-computing centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But Cocoa, not computers, is Africa’s bread and butter, and this is why IBM knows that if it wants a piece of Africa, it will have to court one of its biggest industries. Manager of the bioinformatics and pattern discovery group at IBM Research, Isidore Rigoutsos, told PC World "Cocoa is an important crop in Africa. If you can increase the yield, you generate more product and you can increase the income of farmers".

Working together with the likes of the US Department of Agriculture (*cough* Trade tarrifs *cough*), and chocolate giant Mars (another non-surprise), IBM hopes its project will be able to map the cocoa genome in its entirety (all 400 million DNA bases of it). After having done that, the companies will use data-mining to examine the results and understand the key properties that make the cocoa bean tick.

As well as going some way to better developing data-mining and analysis techniques, the project will also give IBM a good excuse to use its Blue Gene supercomputer, something they will no doubt then be persuading various African nations to buy. Also, by fusing the worlds of software and biotechnology, IBM reckons it can create a new breed of better cross-trained scientists, able to work on many more biotech projects in the future.

Emerging economies like Africa’s are a big prize for corporate tech behemoths. As they scramble over each other to provide low-cost laptops for kids who don’t even have running water and set up wireless connections in places where local clinics don’t even have basic first aid equipment, company accountants rub their hands with glee.

The PR value? Priceless. The market value? Potentially Billions and billions.

Sweet deal for IBM then.
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