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article imageWorld's dwindling chocolate supply linked to climate and disease

By Karen Graham     Nov 17, 2014 in Food
Candy bars, cakes and cookies are but a few of the foods we consume that often contain chocolate. Two very large chocolate makers, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut, are now telling us we are eating too much of what is fast becoming an endangered product.
The chocolate shortage is not something new. Predictions surrounding the demise of chocolate on a world-wide scale started as early as 2010. John Mason of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council made the dire prediction that “in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.”
According to the chocolate makers, by the year 2020, supply of cocoa will fall short of the worldwide demand by at least one million metric tons, and by 2030, this shortfall will double. There are several factors involved in the projected shortfall, and they have the data to back them up.
Chocolate deficits, or simply the fact that farmers are producing less cocoa than the world consumes, is a huge problem. And for the last 50 years, producers and chocolate makers have taken notice of the dismal figures as they continue to grow. Last year, the world ate 70,000 metric tons more than was produced. It would seem that all producers would have to do is just grow more cocoa, right?
There is much more involved. Ashmead Pringle, the president of Atlanta-based GreenHaven Commodity Services, spoke with Bloomberg in 2013. He said, "Demand for chocolate is great. A lot of the world population is moving to the middle class and will have more money to spend, in particular in emerging markets and Asia.”
Asian demand for chocolate has grown tremendously over the past several years, and particularly in China. Last year, 193,000 tons of cocoa went to Chinese manufacturers, and this year, a 7 percent increase is expected over last year's supply. And supplying the growing demand for chocolate is getting more difficult.
Africa's Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon supply over 70 percent of the world's cocoa. This region of Africa has been experiencing a prolonged dry spell, resulting in diminished production. With rising temperatures and falling water supplies, there is reduced yield for the cocoa trees.
Disease is always a threat with food production, and cocoa trees are no exception. A very nasty fungal disease called "frosty pod" has wiped out 30 to 40 percent of the world's cocoa production, according to the International Cocoa Organization. Frosty pod has been around for over 100-years in Central America. While cases of the disease were first isolated events, it has now spread all through the country, and into South America, infecting cocoa trees.
Cocoa-tree showing swollen shoot diseased stem.
Cocoa-tree showing swollen shoot diseased stem.
Another disease, called Witches Broom, and caused by fungi or bacteria, hit Brazil, the world's second largest exporter of cocoa beans. While neither of these diseases has spread to Africa, Mark Guiltinan, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University who specializes in cacao, thinks it’s only a matter of time. “We have guidelines for safe movement of germ plasm,” Guiltinan says, "but scientists are the only ones who follow them.”
Witch s brooms on Downy Birch  caused by the fungus Taphrina betulina.
Witch's brooms on Downy Birch, caused by the fungus Taphrina betulina.
Swollen shoot disease, caused by a virus, has already affected over 12 percent of Ivory Coast cocoa trees, and has spread to Nigeria and Ghana. Within a year of being infected, a tree will have a 25 percent reduction in yields, and by two years, a 50 percent drop in yields. The tree will be dead within a few years. The virus is spread by a mealybug.
The really sad part of this story is the news that the cocoa shortage has inspired innovation, and this is not always a good thing. An agricultural research group in Africa thinks they have come up with an innovative idea. They are working to produce a cocoa tree that produces up to seven-times the beans of a normal cocoa tree. Efficiency? Not according to Bloomberg's Mark Schatzker. He sums it up best:
"Efforts are under way to make chocolate cheap and abundant -- in the process inadvertently rendering it as tasteless as today’s store-bought tomatoes, yet another food, along with chicken and strawberries, that went from flavorful to forgettable on the road to plenitude."
Enough said.
More about chocolate supply, supply and demand, Climate change, Fungal disease, Ebola
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