Agri View: Chocolate Pleasure

Dan Agri View, Drought, Specialty Crops

Bar of chocolate, cocoa beans , cocoa powder
Everett Griner talks about the drought affecting the cocoa crop in today’s Agri View.

Chocolate Pleasure


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.

chocolateA 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.

chocolate Cocoa beans in a bag“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.”

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About the Author, Aleszu Bajak

Aleszu Bajak is co-anchor of the Cross Sections blog and a freelance journalist covering science across the Americas for outlets like The Washington Post, Nature and Science. He also teaches journalism, design, data visualization and programming at Northeastern University and Brandeis University, and is the editor of — an under-the-hood guide to digital storytelling — and, a resource for science news and opinion out of Latin America.

In 2013, he was awarded a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at M.I.T. where he explored the interface between journalists, designers and developers between visits to the Muddy Charles.