28,000 member co-op ECOOKIM has started to push for longer contracts than the yearly ones that are the industry norm. A representative of ECOOKIM has suggested three years as the minimum length of contracts going forward. This would allow growers to make longer term, concrete plans for their farms and to focus on the biggest challenge facing the chocolate industry today: the world is running out of chocolate.

The world is poised on the edge of the longest-running chocolate shortage in 50 years.

Last year, the world consumed approximately 70,000 more metric tons of cocoa than farmers produced. According to Bloomberg, the deficit is expected to last through 2018. Chocolate-makers are taking an even more dire view—they believe the cacao deficit could reach two million metric tons by 2030. The International Cacao Organization claims that in the past two years, only about four million tons of cacao have been produced.

Experts are pointing to many different factors as causes in this huge and growing shortfall. The first is that the market for chocolate is exploding. With the rapid expansion of the global middle class, more people than ever before can afford, and want to buy, chocolate. China in particular has seen a massive uptick in the consumption of chocolate, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Not only are these millions of chocolate consumers demanding more than they ever have before, they are demanding it in more concentrated form. Between claims of healthy antioxidants and perceived prestige, a great deal of chocolate consumers prefer dark over milk chocolate. Milk chocolate can contain as little as 10 percent cacao, while dark chocolate usually contains 50 percent or more. This means the average bar of chocolate is taking more and more cacao to produce.

On top of this new and exploding demand, farmers are facing a biological threat. A fungal blight called frosty pod has, by one estimate, destroyed 30-40 percent of global cacao production.

Even Mother Nature is getting a hit in. The recent spate of droughts worldwide, largely attributed to climate change, has hit countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast very hard. These two countries combined produce about 70 percent of the world’s cacao beans, and they are in terrible danger from the water scarcity plaguing their farms.

Plant breeders and genetic engineers are rising to the challenge to save the world’s tastiest treat. According to Bloomberg, Costa Rican farmers are developing several strains of cacao. These trees show promise in disease resistance and taste, which is a relief to connoisseurs concerned the cacao bean is about to go the way of the hothouse tomato, plentiful but tasteless.

Unless the world starts taking notice not only of chocolate, but of cacao farmers, we could be doomed to a much less delicious future. The growing demand and shrinking supply will make chocolate scarce and will drive prices up to extreme levels. As John Mason of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, put it, “in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.”

Marina Middleton

Sources: Confectionery News, Equal Exchange, International Business Times, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Week
Photos: Flickr