Planet Getting Too Hot for Chocolate? Study Finds Climate Change Could Threaten Cocoa Farmers

chocolate photo

Image: Siona Watson via flickr

The world's cocoa supply could be in danger from climate change, according to a new study from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which says that prices are likely to skyrocket if preventative measures aren't taken. The report predicts that the expected annual temperature increase of more than two degrees Celsius by 2050 will leave many cocoa-producing areas in West Africa—the source of more than half the world's chocolate—too hot to continue growing the crop. And the report says the decline could begin as soon as 2030.In the report, Predicting the Impact of Climate Change on the Cocoa-Growing Regions in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire [PDF], CIAT predicts that in warmer conditions, heat-sensitive cocoa trees will struggle to get enough water during the growing season. Drier-than-ever dry seasons won't help the trees, either.

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By 2050, a rise of 2.3 degrees Celsius will drastically affect production in lowland regions, including the major cocoa-producing areas of Moyen-Comoe, Sud-Comoe and Agneby in Cote d'Ivoire, and Western and Brong Ahafo in Ghana. Farmers in these areas are particularly vulnerable since cocoa production is often their primary source of income.

"Many of these farmers use their cocoa trees like ATM machines," said CIAT's Dr. Peter Laderach, the report's lead author. "They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life."

Why Not Just Plant New Cocoa Trees Elsewhere?
The report's findings show that the ideal conditions for cocoa-growing will shift to higher altitudes—but most of West Africa is relatively flat, so there is not a lot of land at higher elevation to move to.

But even where there is higher land, establishing new cocoa-producing areas could trigger the clearing of forests and important habitats for flora and fauna. Which means, yes, exacerbating climate change even further.

Planning Ahead
CIAT is pushing for a focus on improving the resilience of existing production systems. It makes such recommendations as using larger shade trees to keep cocoa trees cool (which many smallholder farmers already do); diversifying crops grown for both export and food crops to spread the risk of one crop failing; developing hardier cocoa crops capable of tolerating warmer, drier conditions; and stepping up research into suitable irrigation systems. Government-level policies will also be crucial to help cocoa farmers and the industry adapt.

Laderach said, "The good news is that the report quantifies the risks, and pinpoints particularly vulnerable areas in good time for effective action to be taken."

The study is the first in a series that in the coming months will also look at the impact of climate change on cashews and cotton.

More on the impact of climate change on agriculture:
Oh No! Global Warming Is Affecting Beer Production
Adapting to Climate Change: Salt-Tolerant Biofuel Crops Could Turn Saline Soil Back Into Cultivable Land
Russian Heatwave's Effect on Agriculture a Sign of Things to Come Elsewhere?
Population Growth, Climate Change Degrade African Soil, Threaten Millions With Starvation: Worldwatch

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