The World’s Chocolate Shortage and How Science Can Save Us

Cocoa, Africa, Chocolate, Symbol, Increase, Metric TonChocolate, the world’s universal symbol of decadence and indulgence, is in danger. The world has upped its consumption to over 7 million tons per year, an excess of 70,000 metric tons from what farmers actually produced last year.

Global cravings for the confection have driven the average price of cocoa to skyrocket to $2,736 since 2008, and 87% increase from the 1993-2007 average of $1,465. If trends continue, Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut AG ( the world’s largest chocolate maker), predict that we will see a chocolate deficit of 1 million metric tons by 2020 and that deficit will increase by 1 million metric tons per decade.

Though the huge increase in world consumption is a major factor in the shortages, especially China’s jump from 40,000 tons in 2010 to 70,000 tons this year, there are a number of other factors contributing to the chocolate drought. Two diseases, Frosty Pod, and Witches’ Broom devastated cacao crops. The former, began to hit Costa Rican crops in 1978, covering cacao pods in brown lesions and white powder, rendering total crops useless. Witches’ Broom wreaked havoc on Brazil, who at the time was the world’s second largest exporter of cocoa, and is now a net importer.

Luckily, the largest producer of cocoa has yet to be hit by these flora focused diseases, but they also face their adversities. Ebola outbreaks in West Africa border the two countries with the highest production rates (Ivory Coast and Ghana), who have sealed their borders and prevented migrant workers used to harvest cocoa for Mars Inc, and Hershey’s (NYSE: HSY), from entering the countries to work. Global warming also threatens to increase the length and intensity of the dry season, effectively stunting total cocoa production.

Cacao trees themselves, have stood in the way of chocolate perseverance. Cacao seedlings will not bear fruit for at least two years, but more importantly, will not show desirable breeding traits for ten years. Corn has made huge leaps in production because in a single year; a farmer can raise up to three generations of plants, selecting the most resilient and prolific to propagate. 

Nevertheless, science is making strides to prevent our cocoa poverty. Ecuador has developed CCN51, which is resistant to Witches’ Broom and yields seven times more cacao beans than its predecessors. The problem with CCN51 is the most important part of chocolate, the taste. It has been described as having the taste of acidic dirt, threatening to send chocolate to a bland future. Africa has also produced a hybrid, dubbed Mercedes, which lacks taste, but farmers are being trained to breed for flavor. Fret not though, CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) started selective breeding efforts against diseases like Frosty Pod back in 1980. This effort resulted in two strands with actual flavor, R-4, and R-6. Apparently, combining the CATIE chocolates gives the consumer a “total experience”.

Though the threat of chocolate dearth looms overhead, science will prevail in time. Chocolate lovers can expect a steady increase in price and decrease in product size until a suitable breakthrough is reached, but scientists seem close.

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