The world is set to run out of chocolate, I repeat, the world is set to run out of chocolate.
*insert horrified silence here*
Chocolate has occupied a special place in our hearts ever since the Aztecs discovered how to make a flavorful, albeit bitter fermented beverage out of the cacao bean back in 1900 B.C. Heck, its ability to make you feel all warm and fuzzy even led to JK Rowling designating chocolate as an antidote for encounters with Dementors, the shadowy creatures known for sucking all the hope and happiness from their surroundings.
And now, thanks (or no thanks, rather) to climate change, we could very well run out of the stuff in 40 years.
So, chocolate is derived from the cacao plant, and half of the world’s supply comes from only two countries in West Africa, specifically Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Here, the temperature, rain, and humidity provide the perfect conditions for the cacao plant to thrive.
A typical Western consumer eats an average of 286 chocolate bars annually, more if they’re from Belgium or are females going through severe PMS every month. In order to come up with enough cocoa butter for just one person’s demand, cacao producers need to cultivate 10 cacao trees. When you crunch those numbers, the number of cacao trees required to meet the global demand easily hits seven figures, possibly more.
However, due to the rising temperatures brought on by climate change, even an increase of just 2.1 degrees centigrade could lead to a loss of moisture in the soil, making it difficult for cacao plants to flourish.
There’s also the fact that cacao farming methods haven’t changed in centuries. While many other tree crops have enjoyed the benefits of modern crop management techniques and high-yielding cultivars, cacao farmers still largely rely on unimproved planting materials. If things don’t change, we could be looking at a chocolate deficit of 100,000 tonnes a year until the supply completely peters out.
Still, all is not lost. Scientists are looking into using CRISPR gene-editing technology (the same one being eyed for so-called designer babies) to tweak the DNA of cacao trees so that they can be more resistant to viral and fungal diseases. Regional farmers are also considering moving cacao production areas thousands of feet uphill into mountainous terrain as a possible solution, although these areas are currently designated as wildlife preserves.
Furthermore, there are alternative cacao plantations in other places like India, Australia, and the Caribbean.
The bottomline is, climate change can’t be good for any of the plants we depend for sustenance or pleasure, or both. So, we all really need to do our part to help save the planet, if only because it’s the only one in the solar system with chocolate.