If chocolate is doomed, are we too?

4 June, 2013 by (comments)

If you had to name a crop that was absolutely essential to human survival you probably wouldn’t say cocoa straight off the bat. But the crop that’s the main raw ingredient in chocolate is one we should all be paying close attention to – and here’s why.

Back in September 2011 CIAT scientists produced a report on the likely impact of climate change on the cocoa plantations of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire – that’s where more than half the world’s cocoa comes from, produced mainly by smallholders with few alternatives for earning a living.

As we noted at the time, only dentists would be happy about the news: rising temperatures were going to take a big bite out of chocolate production. The story of Africa’s impending chocolate meltdown went viral.

Armed with some new data on the effects on cocoa of a drier climate, as well as a hotter one, the scientists have just re-run the models to see if their original findings hold true. The results, just published in the journal Climatic Change, confirm the worst: the crop is going to become less suited to the two countries overall. The report even warns that the slump in cocoa suitability could force some smallholders off their land in search of more favourable growing conditions. There might even be a exodus of cocoa farmers from the countryside altogether.

That’s unless, the new report makes clear, a series of measures is introduced to adapt cocoa production to the warmer, drier climate. These range from the development of hardier cocoa varieties, to improved agronomy, to investments in irrigation infrastructure. In fact, there was even a fleeting glimpse of some good-ish news: there’s slightly more time to adapt than the 2011 report predicted, since the longer dry seasons will emerge gradually over the next 40 years, but the groundwork for serious adaptation needs to start now.

But here’s what’s both compelling and unnerving about the new findings: we have a problem – confirmed, checked, re-confirmed; we have solutions – elaborated in detail, endorsed by experts. What should surely follow now, is action. After all, chocolate hardly needs a charm offensive: the battle for hearts and minds is long won. Chocolate speaks a universal language; it connects people, countries and continents. It’s there when we’re happy, it’s there when we’re sad, it’s there when we’re in love. Culturally speaking, we’re drenched in chocolate. So my question is this: could chocolate now become the definitive test case for successful climate change adaptation? Because what chance do we have with more obscure crops if we can’t even save chocolate?

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CIAT will be at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, next week. For the latest on the event, follow the AASW Blog and Twitter feed #AASW6.

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