DAKAR (AlertNet) - Enjoying a bar of chocolate could become an expensive pleasure in years to come, say researchers who have been studying the impact of climate change on West Africa’s cocoa-growing regions.
Half of the world’s cocoa comes from the West African nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana. An expected temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius by 2050 will render many of the region’s cocoa-producing areas too hot for the plants that bear the fruit from which chocolate is made, says a new study from the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
“What we are saying is that if we don’t take any action, there won’t be sufficient chocolate around in the future,” said Peter Läderach, the report’s lead author.
The warmer conditions predicted by the researchers, based on 19 climate models, mean cocoa trees will struggle to get enough water during the growing season, curtailing the development of cocoa pods containing the prized cocoa bean - the key ingredient in chocolate production.
“The dry seasons will become more intense; it will get hotter and the plants will be affected,” Läderach told AlertNet on the phone from Nicaragua.
By 2050, a rise in temperature of 2.3 degrees Celsius will drastically affect production in lowland regions, including the major cocoa-producing areas of Moyen-Comoe, Sud-Comoe and Agneby in Ivory Coast, and Western and Brong Ahafo in Ghana, the report predicts.
Ideal cocoa-growing areas will shift to higher altitudes to compensate for the rise in temperatures. The search for new cocoa-producing sites could fuel the clearing of forests, protected areas and important habitats for flora and fauna, the report warns.
NEW VARIETIES, TECHNIQUES NEEDED
Cocoa farmers and exporters, the cocoa industry and consumers of products derived from cocoa will all feel the impact of these changes if action to adapt is not taken now, Läderach said.
Farmers are particularly vulnerable since cocoa production is often their primary source of income. They sell the pods to raise cash for basic services like school fees or medical expenses.
Läderach said plant scientists must breed new crop varieties adapted to the warmer conditions associated with climate change, and farmers should develop new crop management techniques to survive the coming climate shifts.
They could grow their cocoa plants under the shade of bigger forest trees, which would help keep them cool, for example.
“They would also need to have irrigation systems if places get too dry, and should consider alternative cash crops that could match the climatic conditions,” Läderach added.
The researchers hope the study, commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will help decision makers, governments, farmers, exporters and cocoa businesses take steps to tackle the situation.
“Cocoa prices have been on the rise in the past year,” said Läderach. “If there is less cocoa available, they are going to continue to rise - which means the industry will have to make decisions that could cause chocolate prices to increase.”