No, please, not the chocolate!

If you read the headline of this Gizmodo piece you may jump off your chair: “We’re Running Out of Chocolate”, the title warns. Reading further, the article eases the bad news just a little by quoting Nature Conservation Research Council’s John Mason: “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.” We aren’t really running out of chocolate, it’s only the cheap stuff that we might have to say goodbye to.


Chocolate! (photo by Pamela via Wikimedia Commons)

The reason why chocolate may become a pricey commodity in a couple of decades time is simple: chocolate consumption is rising in the developed world at a rate production cannot keep up with. But don’t stop eating the good stuff just yet.

What exacerbates the problem is not so much the consumption rise but the production decrease. West African cocoa producers, responsible for about 60 percent of the world’s production, are on the decline. Farmers are abandoning their crops because the labor is intense and the pay is pitiable. Rather than continuing their parents’ work, the children of African cocoa producers are fleeing to the cities in search for better jobs.

Moreover, cocoa-producing countries such as Brazil, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, have had ongoing problems with crop diseases. Indonesian cocoa productions, on the other hand, were recently affected by changes in weather systems which resulted in a sharp increase in cocoa prices.

Science can do its part to help mitigate this problem. According to PopSci, “Competing efforts at chocolate giants Hershey and Mars Inc. have sequenced cocoa genome, which could improve efforts to breed more resilient, higher-yielding trees.” But competition from more lucrative crops is still a problem. Producers in Malaysia, for example, have been switching to different crops such as palm oil and natural rubber.

A possible incentive for producers to stay in the cocoa industry is Fairtrade. If farmers are organized into large units that can ensure that each individual is paid fairly for their work, they may continue in the business. As Sophi Tranchell, the managing director of Divine Chocolate, puts it, “Fairtrade … delivers sustainability into the hands of farmers, not the hands of global buyers.”

At the end of the day, demand for chocolate will not cease so there will always be those willing to produce cocoa beans. Provided chocolate doesn’t become prohibitively expensive, a return to the status it once had may not be such a bad thing. Until then, let’s not waste fine cocoa beans on low-quality chocolate bars and make sure we buy the high-standard fairtrade goodness instead.


8 thoughts on “No, please, not the chocolate!

  1. Kausik Datta

    Well written post about a grave issue.

    let’s not waste fine cocoa beans on low-quality chocolate bars and make sure we buy the high-standard fairtrade goodness instead.

    Amen to that!


  2. Barbara Ferreira

    I’m glad for your support to the cause. Also, thanks for your blog post this week — it surely contributed to correct some of the "bugs" affecting NN and NB!


  3. Eva Amsen

    Nooo, I need chocolate to live!!
    Although I’d be fine with paying more for good chocolate. I generally do that anyway. I hope and suspect that the cuts will be mostly in cheap candy bars.


  4. Nicolas Fanget

    If it means this foul "chocolate" bar from Hershey’s disappears then I won’t be sad one second. Although since the main issue is that it doesn’t pay enough for the farmers, then prices will just go up until it is viable again or we start paying a fair price for our chocolate now.
    Alternatively, maybe the EU will start funding cocoa plantations through the CAP? The Belgian, Dutch, French and German chocolate industries won’t be happy if they run out of beans, expect some very interesting demonstrations on the continent!


  5. Barbara Ferreira

    @Eva: I agree. I would rather see Crunch Crips bars disappear from supermarket shelves than those delicious 70% cocoa Divine chocolate tablets. 
    @Graham: "Dr Shapiro says the date the cocoa genome was released was the greatest day of his life." I’m glad he has his priorities straight! 
    @Nicolas: If we were to run out of chocolate, I would surely join those European demonstrations.


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