Rebecca Wade finds that the cocoa plant is failing us and we’re finally paying the price for our longstanding love affair with chocolate
Raise your hand if you’ve eaten chocolate in the last 24-hours. Apart from the token vegan, the serial dieter and perhaps the odd chocolate-hating anomaly, my guess is that most of you, in some form or another, have.
It was on a recent Sunday morning, as I sat drinking my frothed-milk cocoa in Rabot 1975, a cafe offering unique cocoa-centric cuisine overlooking the hustle and bustle of Borough Market, that my friend informed me of the imminent cocoa crisis.
For the chocolate lovers out there, this seems like something you should be worried about… Forget the economy, the world is suffering a severe chocolate deficit that is forecast to get worse by the year. Already in 2013 the population consumed 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than was being produced and by 2020, it has been estimated that this figure will rise to one million. This growing demand can, to an extent, be credited to the introduction of chocolate into Asian and Middle Eastern diets that has caused a surge in imports to these countries. Yet, per capita, they only eat 5% of what the western European devours.
Frankly, we are eating too much chocolate, and this might need to stop if we want to see it in our future.
However, it’s not entirely the fault of our love affair with chocolate, as there are also a number of supply-side problems adding to the deficit. Dry weather and drought across West Africa has been curbing production figures in Ghana and Ivory Coast, which together harbour 70% of the world’s cocoa supply. On top of this, the ‘Frosty Pod Rot’ fungal disease has single-handedly wiped out 30-40% of global cocoa production. No wonder farmers are saving themselves the hassle of such a tiresome crop and switching to the more reliable options of corn or rubber. With weakening supply, prices are on the rise. John Mason, of Ghana based Nature Conservation Council, warned in The Independent: “In 20-years time chocolate will be like caviar…it will become so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it”.
Admittedly, there are perhaps more significantly pressing concerns absorbing the world today, and in comparison, this issue is trivial to say the least. Nonetheless, let us spare a moment to consider the world without this cherished product. What equally nourishing substance could possibly quell the post-breakup craving for comfort food? What will the ageing population substitute for their cube or two of Bourneville before bed? Will future generations watch reruns of Willy Wonka on TV, unable to comprehend Augustus Gloop’s fascination with the chocolate river that runs enticingly through the Factory.
For starters, the festive season will take a turn for the worst. Costa’s seasonal hot chocolate specials would quickly become a thing of the past, as we reluctantly settle for the ‘Mulled Winter Fruits’ or ‘Christmas Tea’. Slightly overpriced advent calendars will cease to brighten the 25 December days before Christmas with miniature chocolate sculptures of holly or elves. Parents will no longer be able to rely on Lindt chocolate Reindeers with their bell ringing collars as staple stocking fillers, or a box of chocolates as an easy secret Santa cop-out. Will Haribo do?!
Of course, they are attempting to tackle this looming crisis by producing genetically modified disease resistant cocoa plants. Even so, these new strains will take two years to produce fruit and 10 more years to mature in flavour! In the meantime, the semi-fake chocolate being developed to fill this void is predicted to be a sludgier and sweeter substance filled with sugar to disguise the lack of genuine cocoa. It is hard to imagine that these future forms will satisfy us in the same way as a classic bar of Dairy Milk does today.
So you have been warned, buy in bulk and stock up now. Your future self will thank you!
Featured image: Pixabay