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.
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.