Chocolate faces a dark future, thanks to climate change. A 2013 study predicted that, by 2050, world cacao acreage could shrink to just 10% of the area under the crop in 2011. This will mean chocolate could well become a luxury—that is, if enough is produced for at least some of the companies that currently make chocolate to remain in production. Chocolate is already a vulnerable crop since it can only be grown 20o south or north of the Equator. Climate change will mean that cacao-growing regions, including swathes of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire that account for 53% of global cocoa, become warmer and drier. Given even the slightest fluctuations in humidity means the cacao plant can’t grow, a business-as-usual scenario with greenhouse gas emissions means no chocolate in a little over three decades from now—especially because the land that can be used for cacao cultivation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire by 2050 is largely protected natural reserves, where cultivation is not permitted. Efforts, of course, are on to make sure that chocolate doesn’t become luxury or, worse, history. Mars Inc, one of the world’s largest chocolate-manufacturers, is supporting research at the University of California at Berkeley to develop Theobroma cacao variants that can tolerate climate-change effects. Another, perhaps more sustainable strategy is what Brazil is doing.
Brazil, the largest producer of coffee—another crop that is particularly vulnerable to climate change effects—is practising something that is locally known as cabruca. It means retaining or replanting rainforest trees that are taller than the crop plant in the cropped area to provide shade. This brings down transpiration and evaporation loss of moisture and also keeps ambient temperature lower than it would have been otherwise. While the cacao-growing nations may be able to stem the melting away of cacao acreage with cabruca and GM cocoa, the world must act to mitigate climate change effects if it doesn’t want a bitter, chocolate-less future.