Get ready for a world without chocolate as climate crisis speeds up loss of cocoa trees

Chocolate lovers need to brace themselves for the coming cocoa bean shortage that is about to make their favorite guilty pleasure rarer and more expensive. And it’s all because of climate change.

As the Amazon rainforest burns and deforestation increases, now would be a good time to point out that cacao trees, which produce the cocoa beans that are used to make every variety of chocolate bar we have ever consumed, are going up in flames, too.

And even if the Amazon were not on fire, cacao trees would still be in serious jeopardy because of rising global temperatures that are causing high heat and drier conditions. It’s those dry conditions that are killing chocolate.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

Cacao trees only prosper under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. In short, cacao trees thrive in rainforests.

As we all know, this past July is the hottest month ever recorded on the planet as heatwaves struck around the world, including in the tropics where cocoa plants usually thrive.

Rising temperatures, however, will force farmers to plant trees at higher elevations to maintain proper temperatures and humidity levels, and that means less space to grow them and poorer soils.

Take Ghana in Africa, for instance. A 2013 study conducted by Peter Läderach predicts this very scenario will occur by 2050, and that only a small area of land is suitable for production.

Läderach and coauthors found that, of the 294 locations examined in the study, only 10.5% showed increasing suitability for cacao production; the remaining 89.5% were likely to become less suitable by 2050. The authors continued, “These changes in climatic suitability are predicted to take place over a time period of almost 40 years, so they will mostly impact the next rather than the current generation of cocoa trees and farmers. In other words, there is time for adaptation.”

Nature Conservation Research executive director John Mason has even more bad news for chocolate lovers.

“In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it,” he said.

That was in 2010, which means we are just a decade away from this reality.

Cocoa farmers are going to struggle, which is why younger generations are already abandoning the jobs for something more sustainable.

“Chocolate consumption is increasing faster than cocoa production – and it’s not sustainable,” Cocoa Research Association chairman Tony Lass says.

And production is going to decrease even more if there’s not enough land in the perfect climate to keep up with the appetite of consumers.

“It’s hard to maintain production at high levels in a particular plot of land every time, because of pest problems that eat away at the yields and the farms need to be rejuvenated,” Earthwatch Organisation research director of ecosystem services Thomas Dietsch said. “Although research into new varieties and better management methods could solve those problems, the other challenge is that cocoa is competing for agricultural space with other commodities like palm oil.”

Palm oil itself has its problems, but it’s not as vulnerable as cacao trees.

So, prices are going to go up and the question is whether people are willing to spend even more for their chocolate fix. At some point, chocolate could end up going back to being a luxury food that only the wealthy can afford. And it’s just another reason to despise the greedy corporate executives who are enriching themselves by destroying the planet.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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