Chocolate shortages loom as demand soars

Cocoa experts work to solve problems of low production as more people demand chocolate treats. Photo: Wikimedia

DALLAS, November 2, 2013 ― Two days after Halloween, most kids’ candy stashes are thinning out and most of the chocolate bars have already been eaten. If industry predictions are correct, chocolate bars may become a rare treat not found in as many candy buckets next year.

Demand steadily outpaces supply capabilities, which could result in the price of cocoa doubling in less than a decade.

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While demand has stayed mostly flat in Europe and North America, experts expect Asian markets to expand rapidly, leading to a shortfall of one million tons of cocoa beans by 2020. Cocoa demand rises on average three percent a year while supply has remained flat, according to Christopher DaVault of Mars, Inc. Unless this trend changes, it could lead to shortages that will drive up prices and make chocolate treats harder to come by.

Many other crops experienced a “green revolution” in the 20th century. For example, corn yields have increased five fold since the 1930s. In that same time, cocoa yields have remained flat. Until recently, cocoa has been an “orphan crop” that was not studied by scientists, thus missing the green revolution that lead to massive increases in crop yields for most cash crops.

There are between five and six million cocoa farmers worldwide, the vast majority of which are small family farms in Africa. These small farms — an average of 7-10 acres in West Africa — are in developing countries that may face political instabilities among other problems according to the International Cocoa Initiative.

Child labor is also a problem in cocoa farming. While many children help on their families’ cocoa farms, much as on any other farm, there are reports of unsafe and inappropriate child labor and even child trafficking. Additionally, because of the impoverished areas in which many cocoa farms are located, many children do not have access to education. In 2002, industry leaders formed the International Cocoa Initiative to address the issues of child labor and adopted the Harkin-Engel Protocol to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

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To meet future demand and insure the future of cocoa, the major cocoa companies have adopted goals that all cocoa be certified as sustainable by 2020. “Mars is on track to meet our goal to certify 100 percent of its cocoa as sustainably produced by 2020,” said DaVault. “If the industry works together we can help millions of cocoa farmers worldwide and ensure that cocoa is sustainable.”

Addressing the problem of flat crop yields, researchers have “adopted” the orphan cocoa crop. In 2011, Mars and IBM successfully mapped a cocoa genome. They released the data to other researchers with hopes that increased research will increase the productivity of the small farms. They are working on mapping the genomes of 150 other varieties of cocoa beans. Among other things, they hope to learn how to allow farmers to know which trees are high producers and disease resistant without waiting the three to five years for the tree to mature and begin producing fruit.

There are also efforts being made to help farmers increase yields through increased productivity, such as Mars’s Sustainable Cocoa Initiative. In addition to creating stronger plants through the genome mapping project, these efforts hope to increase productivity through providing training in agricultural methods that have improved other crops, such as grafting, pruning, and improved fertilizer use.

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April Thompson

April Thompson is a writer and home educator. She has a background in pro-life political work, including speaking to national, state and local groups on life issues. April lives near Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children.

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