Climate Change Could Pinch the World’s Chocolate Supply
A hotter, drier climate will limit the areas where cocoa can be produced in West Africa.
A hotter, drier climate could squeeze the world’s supply of chocolate by limiting the areas where cocoa can be produced in West African countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to a new study conducted by scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). For a region that harvests 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans, the crop’s vulnerability to climate change is becoming an evermore bitter truth.
To model how cocoa production would respond to climate conditions in the coming decades, the researchers brought together climate projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report with rainfall and temperature data from 751 West African climate stations. They showed that parts of the West African cocoa belt, which extends from Sierra Leone to Cameroon, are in danger of becoming savanna by 2050 due to a combination of higher temperatures and increased periods of drought.
“What we found is that the savanna zone will expand southwards across West Africa,” said Christian Bunn, a climate impact researcher with CIAT and one of the study’s authors. A shifting cocoa growing region could also trigger new waves of deforestation to clear the way for new cocoa plantations, the study concludes.
Bunn and his colleagues also found that hotter, drier conditions would reduce the amount of overall area suitable for growing cocoa, with transition zones being the most vulnerable to a shifting climate. “Cocoa has historically been cultivated widely in the transition zone between wet forests and dry savanna,” Bunn wrote in an email. These zones typically experience higher temperatures and seasonal droughts and will therefore see their cocoa production hardest hit, according to the study. And 2050 is a generous estimate, Bunn said. “Most of the expected impact for 2050 will actually happen by 2030 already.”
What this means precisely for farmers on the ground is still hard to say, Bunn said. “We have repeatedly been asked by local stakeholders what this will mean quantitatively and we are still struggling to answer this question.”
About the Author, Aleszu Bajak