Climate change: Will chocolate become a costly luxury?

If temperatures continue to rise, a new report suggests, West Africa, source of half the world's chocolate, will be unfit to grow the coveted beans

Chocolate: A precious commodity as soon as 2030?
(Image credit: Ricardo Ceppi/dpa/Corbis)

Is the world's cocoa supply in danger? That's what a new study from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) suggests, singling out a familiar culprit: Global warming. The findings [see PDF] reveal that annual temperature increases will hamper the crop-production efforts in West Africa, which currently supplies half of the world's chocolate — at least if preventive measures aren't taken. Here's what you should know:

How hot are we talking?

The study, which consulted 19 climate-change models, indicates that a mere two degrees Celcius increase by 2050 will render areas like Ghana and the Ivory Coast too hot to grow cocoa, says The Washington Post. As cocoa trees struggle to obtain enough water, the developmental stages of cocoa pods that house "the prized cocoa bean" — source of the chocolate we know and love — would be disturbed. The effects of a shortage — including a leap in the price of chocolate — could be felt as soon as 2030.

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Well, why not just move the cocoa trees elsewhere?

Rachel Cernansky of TreeHugger points out that "the ideal conditions for cocoa-growing will shift to higher altitudes — but most of West Africa is relatively flat, so there is not a lot of land at higher elevation to move to." Plus, clearing forests to pave way for farmland may actually end up "exacerbating climate change even further."

How would a shortage affect the region?

The cocoa trees play an "absolutely critical role" in the region's rural life, says CIAT's Dr. Peter Läderach, who authored the study. Hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers use "their cocoa trees like ATM machines," he says. "They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses."

What kind of preventive measures can be taken?

Farmers could diversify their crops to "spread the risk" and avoid being overly dependent on cocoa, notes TreeHugger's Cernansky. Other solutions include using shady trees to cool growing areas and developing irrigation systems that aren't exclusively weather-dependent.

Sources: CIAT, Reuters, TreeHugger, Washington Post

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