Is Chocolate Going Extinct?

Nov 12, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

How much would you pay for a bar of chocolate?

As farmers in West Africa increasingly walk away from their cocoa bean crops, experts predict chocolate could cost a lot more in the next 20 years—as much as $11 for a bar of that currently sells for $1 to $2.

John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, shared his prediction with The Independent: "In 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."

A taste for chocolate is increasing in the developing world, making it tremendously difficult for cocoa bean farmers to keep up with the demand for the sweet treat.

Farmers are finding that the payoff for maintaining cocoa bean trees is a poor return on investment. Other uses of the land—such as growing plants for biofuels—can be more appealing options. Struggling farmers currently wait three to five years for a new crop of trees to mature after an old crop dies off. Earning only 80 cents a day for physical labor, farmers are also turning to work in urban areas.

Thomas Dietsch, research director of ecosystem services at Earthwatch, explains the predicament: "Although research into new varieties and better management methods could solve those problems, the other challenge is that cocoa is competing for agricultural space with commodities like palm oil—which is increasingly in demand for biofuels."

To compound the problem, the soil in Ghana and Ivory Coast, a prime region for cocoa bean production, is exhausted from years of production. Changing weather patterns have also hit Indonesia, the third largest producer, hard.

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