By Charlotte Strawson
Each year in Britain the average person eats around 9.5kg of chocolate, and overall spending on Easter eggs tops £80 million. However, the nation’s chocolate addiction could be stymied by climate change, as rising temperatures threaten cocoa cultivation in countries like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, which currently account for over half of the world’s supply.
Rising temperatures have already been shown to decrease cocoa crop yields, with plants becoming increasingly prone to higher seed mortality and young tree mortality due to the prevalence of pests like cocoa pod borers. Intense rainfall has also led to more landslides and the depletion of top soil which directly affects crop yields. The drying process has also been affected, with higher humidity levels in some areas leading to higher mould growth.
The impacts of climate change will be especially detrimental to small, single crop farmers in the developing world as they rely upon cocoa cultivation as their primary source of income. The cost of pesticides used to keep the cocoa pod borer population to acceptable levels is unaffordable for many such farmers, especially as cocoa prices have fallen on the world market. The combined affect of these climate impacts could also deal significant damage to the economies of cocoa producing countries. In Ghana, for example, 30% of total export earnings are from cocoa and the industry accounts for 8.2% of the country’s GDP.
In Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the optimum temperature for cocoa is found between 100-250m above sea level. However, under climate change this could change to 400-500m. Moving cultivation to higher altitudes is one measure to adapt, however moving cultivation uphill can be problematic. Established cocoa farmers, may not own higher altitude land; the land is frequently more difficult to cultivate due to steeper slopes, and such land use change may also come at the expense of forest and other valuable natural habitats. Other adaptation strategies for small farmers include the introduction of new varieties of seeds, planting more trees to offer shade for the crops, and crop diversification.
Large companies such as Mars are taking climate change risks seriously, and are supporting farmers to adapt to emerging climate risks. Increasing awareness and access to alternative agricultural methods is important, not just for environmental and social concerns, but also as it makes business sense. The cocoa industry is at risk of the impacts of climate change as temperatures rise and the severity of weather events worsen, this may lead to low crop yields and the exposure and emergence of diseases. The global chocolate addiction is unlikely to end any time soon, but we can all expect to pay a little more for our Easter eggs in the decades ahead.