Could climate change make chocolate extinct?

4 Sep 2018

Climate change poses a major threat to cocoa and chocolate production, with some researchers suggesting that cocoa could become extinct in some major producing regions within 30 years.

Could climate change make chocolate extinct?

Up to 90% of current cocoa-producing regions in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire could become unsuitable for growing cocoa by 2050, according to a study published in the journal Climatic Change. Together, the two countries produce 53% of the world’s cocoa, and major players in the chocolate industry are taking action to help mitigate the effects of climate change on cocoa supply.

Researchers suggest the problem is tied to altitude as well as rising temperatures. Cocoa already grows in some areas of Malaysia where temperatures are higher, but the suitable altitude for cocoa production in West Africa is likely to be pushed steadily uphill, from the current 100-250 metres above sea level, to 450-500 metres above sea level by 2050.

However, researchers say that because these changes are set to take place over several decades, there is still time for adaptation.

Scientists are working on breeding hardier cocoa varieties to resist drought, but progress is slow. One recent study found that only about 100 new varieties have been released since 2000, mainly because of limited infrastructure focused on the final stages of plant breeding. Another strategy would be to plant (or replant) shade trees around cocoa plantations, reproducing conditions under which cacao trees tend to be most productive and resistant to pests. In addition, shade trees protect cacao trees from soil and wind erosion, and help prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere. Many smallholders in West Africa are already taking this approach.

Meanwhile, major cocoa and chocolate suppliers like Barry Callebaut and Cargill have outlined plans to safeguard production, and the world’s biggest chocolate companies including Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez are taking steps to help ensure sustainable supply.

Cargill has implemented a strategy it calls the Cargill Cocoa Promise, which aims to limit deforestation, improve traceability and build economic resilience among cocoa farmers. Among a range of initiatives, the company provides guidance for cocoa farmers on good farming practices. It says farmers in Côte d’Ivoire saw their yields increase by an average of 49% in the 2016-17 period after implementing this guidance.

Barry Callebaut also has a strong focus on cocoa sustainability, including working with 92 cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. In addition, it has a direct sourcing enterprise called the Biolands Group, which works directly with more than 42,000 farmers to provide training, farming inputs and assistance in producing certified cocoa.

Such initiatives are of increasing importance to chocolate manufacturers, many of which have outlined targets for more sustainable production. CocoaAction, for example, is an initiative of the World Cocoa Foundation and signatories include Barry Callebaut, Blommer, Cargill, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, and Olam Europe. The aim is to leverage scale and cooperation to accelerate sustainability in the cocoa sector.

If the initiative can successfully mobilise these companies to take significant action, it could go a long way toward securing the future for the chocolate confectionery industry – but the next decade or so is likely to be crucial.

Read all the latest news about Cocoa & Chocolate

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