Climate Change: Why Chocolate Manufacturers are Worried

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    Today, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a tweet by Climate Central and it brought me to a stop. The tweet “Climate change is a growing threat to impact the global supply of chocolate” made me wonder what more climate change could affect. I mean, chocolates too? But do you know that suppliers and manufacturers of chocolates are getting increasingly worried about how climate change will impact the global supply of chocolate? Uh uh, the chocolates you just finished eating for Easter celebrations, manufacturers are worried about its global supply and here’s why;

    Nearly 70 percent of chocolate production happens in West Africa, in what is known as the cocoa belt, with the other 30 percent split between Asia and the Americas. Chocolate is produced from cacao bean, which is produced from the cacao tree. Cacao can only grow within about 20° north and south of the equator—south of the Mediterranean home of carob, in fact. Cacao trees only prosper under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. In short, cacao trees thrive in rainforests.

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    Suitability for cacao cultivation at present (left) and projected for 2050 (right). via Climate Central

    The most recent IPCC report shows that temperatures in West Africa where cacao trees grow should increase 3.8ºF (2.1ºC) by 2050 and no increase in rainfall is expected. This is a big threat for Cacao trees. With West Africa already susceptible to drought, higher temperatures with increase in precipitation may lead to more drought stress as there may be increase in evapotranspiration, especially during the dry season.

    You are probably thinking it’s the heat; no, it is the lack of humidity.

    The danger to chocolate comes from an increase in evapotranspiration, especially since the higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall. In other words, as higher temperatures squeeze more water out of soil and plants, it’s unlikely that rainfall will increase enough to offset the moisture loss.

    By 2050, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The IPCC reported that Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana’s optimal altitude for cacao cultivation is expected to rise from 350–800 feet (100–250 meters) to 1,500–1,600 feet (450–500 meters) above sea level.

    While further research will need to conducted to determine the most extreme impacts on West Africa’s cacao farmers, research shows that it has been an accepted fact for a while that climate change will negatively impact cacao and that adaptations must be put in place.

    This supports what we have been saying – the environment belongs to us all; if something isn’t right with it, we all get affected. No one, nothing, is safe.

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