Climate change is a phenomenon that the majority of us understand and sympathise with. There are numerous global organisations raising awareness about the environment, our carbon footprints, the decimation of the rainforests, the melting of the polar ice caps…and now we can add chocolate to the list. Yes, chocolate could very well become an endangered species by the year 2050.
This is a serious issue. For those who consume bar after bar of glorious milk, dark or white chocolate daily, it’s a very serious issue.
Chocolate is a global industry worth about $100 billion a year. The matter of a catastrophic shortage was raised last year. Headlines across the world foreboded the demise of chocolate production due to climate change and disease.
A report issued jointly by the University of California’s Innovative Genomics Institute and the Mars company highlighted the fear that cacao plants are “slated to disappear by as early as 2050 thanks to warmer temperatures and drier weather conditions.”
Currently, more than 50% of the global chocolate production comes from two West African countries, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. However, if global warming continues at the current rate, these regions will experience a 2.1ºC increase in temperature and ultimately result in a “considerable reduction in [suitable growing] area” for Ghana’s cocoa production and an “almost total elimination [of suitable growing area] in the Ivory Coast.”
Cacao is the food crop used to produce chocolate. 40-50 million people worldwide depend upon this plant for their livelihoods, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Not to mention the billions who eat chocolate. However, as with all plant forms, the crops can be affected by diseases and atmospheric changes.
Scientists predict that climate change will significantly reduce the amount of land suitable for cultivating cacao in the coming decades. Though probably not to the point of extinction it could reduce the amount of cacao-producing land to an even narrower region. This in turn would speed up the risk of disease.
Before you start stockpiling Cadbury’s crème eggs however (alongside the croissants, baguettes, sauerkraut and other European delicacies that allegedly will be hard to obtain post-Brexit), it is not all doom and gloom. The good news is that scientists are working hard to develop technologies to alter the DNA in cacao plants to become more resistant to both viral and fungal diseases. CRISPR is the same gene-editing technology associated with creating designer babies, eradicating diseases, and resurrecting the woolly mammoth.
Just as with the banana crisis we covered last year, scientists are assuring people that a solution will be found. As early as 2008, Mars launched the Cacao Genome Project. This is an effort to publicly release the sequence of the cacao gene so breeders could “begin identifying traits of climate change adaptability, enhanced yield, and efficiency in water and nutrient use.”
And when it comes to global warming, West Africa is not the only suitable region on the planet. Indeed, cacao plants are being grown in Australia. Globally, everyone can do their bit to help with climate control, however small. Whatever else happens, we cannot allow chocolate to become extinct. Ever.