By Caroline Fouvet
You might take ice cream for granted when it comes to cooling down during a scorching summer. However, as climate change has far-reaching impacts on global agriculture, it actually affects essential ice cream ingredients such as cocoa, sugar, coffee or vanilla. World-famous ice cream manufacturers such as Ben and Jerry’s raise the alarm and point at concrete examples that illustrate the potential shortage of ingredients.
Take chocolate for instance: As 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from only four African countries, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, the increase of extreme weather events in the region directly threatens most of the production. The “chocolate tree”, Theobroma cacao, is extremely sensitive to pests and fungal infections and instances of both are exacerbated by climate-induced events. Moreover, floods and droughts directly disrupt the tree’s growth and water supply. In general, farming in the tropics, the cradle of cocoa trees, is becoming increasingly difficult. Nut trees and sugarcane fields also are affected by warmer winters, lack of rain or severe tropical cyclones.
Ice cream ingredients are vital economic outputs for farmers in developing countries and their shortage would lead to heavy losses of income. Cocoa production alone provides work to almost six million farmers in the world. In Ivory Coast, cocoa farming alone accounts for 15% of the country’s GDP, which highlights the disruptive economic impact of climate change. In Ethiopia, where 15% of the population depends on the coffee industry, studies estimate that 60% of the coffee-growing areas could not be suitable for agriculture by the end of the century. This shows, as highlighted in one of our recent articles, that climate change impacts, in particular on agriculture, directly undermine development progress and require adaptation efforts. It is for example likely that many crops will have to be moved at higher altitudes to cope with rising temperatures, when possible.
The other side of the coin is that ice cream production, if not managed in sustainably, also contributes to climate change through the destruction of forests to produce palm oil. Therefore, ice cream is not just a summer staple but should be handled carefully as an important produce for the world’ economy.