“Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” ― Jo Brand
Chocolate is one of the world’s favorite foods. Its uses are many and varied. Chocolate comes in limitless forms, from bars and candies to powder for cooking and drinking; flavors, including milk, dark, white, or even orange- or mint-flavored and liquor-filled chocolate; shapes, sizes, and colors. Yet, the supply of chocolate is not infinite. According to several studies, the existence of chocolate is in jeopardy due to the soaring demand and the dwindling supply from the cocoa agriculture sector. Imagine having your last bite of chocolate. Forever.
Chocolate is believed to originate from Central America and be first discovered by the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations. Chocolate was originally consumed as a thick, frothy, and bitter beverage made of ground cocoa seeds mixed with a variety of local ingredients, such as chili peppers, vanilla, and spices. This drink was called “xocolatl” in the Uto-Aztecan Nahuatl language, from which the word chocolate originally stemmed from. It was also often referred to as the “food of the gods” as the Aztecs believed cocoa seeds were the gift of the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. Cocoa beans were considered so valuable that they even served as currency in Aztec society. Chocolate was introduced in Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish conquerors. Europeans added their own ingredients, such as cane sugar and honey, to make it more drinkable. Cocoa was transformed over time in a way to make the chocolate we know today.
The most widely-consumed sweet treat in the world originates from cocoa seeds, also called cocoa beans, of the cocoa fruits, referred to as cocoa pods, which grow on cocoa trees. Cocoa beans are the main ingredient used in the making of chocolate, chocolate paste, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and so on. Cocoa trees can only be found in a limited geographical range: they grow within a belt between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the Equator, that is to say in regions experiencing a tropical climate where the temperature and rainfall conditions are most suited for their cultivation. An estimated fifty countries located in the intertropical convergence zone cultivate cocoa beans. The African continent dominates by far the production of cocoa, with Ivory Coast and Ghana accounting for nearly two-thirds of the world’s production of cocoa beans. Brazil, Ecuador, and Indonesia are some of the other leading sources of cocoa. The sector is an important source of livelihood, providing revenue for 40 to 50 million people.
Growing cocoa trees requires a lot of patience: it takes three to five years for a cocoa seed to germinate and become a fruiting tree. Each tree produces a limited number of cocoa pods, generally about 20-30 pods per year. A typical pod contains roughly 20 to 50 cocoa beans of varying length and thickness. About 400 dried beans are required to make 500 grams of chocolate. It is estimated that each cocoa tree produces about one kilogram of cocoa per year.
Well-known for its numerous powerful health benefits and positive physiological and emotional effects, chocolate is enjoyed by millions of people on the globe every day. As per the World Cocoa Foundation, approximately 3 million tons of cocoa beans are consumed worldwide every year. With around 40 percent of the world’s cocoa per year, Europeans are the main consumers of cocoa and cocoa products. However, chocolate consumption has skyrocketed in other countries, such as India and China. Chocolate products have become so popular that the world could end up running out of chocolate in a few decades. Most of us could probably survive without spinach or cauliflower, but a world without chocolate?
Although the production of cocoa is widespread, its farming is endangered. Creating chocolate is a long and complex process: cocoa beans require extensive fermenting, drying, cleaning, roasting, grinding, and packing before being commercialized. Cocoa trees are quite fragile and susceptible to diseases and pests, and pods do not ripen at the same time. Therefore, they need to be monitored continuously all year round. The fruits are mostly hand-harvested. Overall, the cultivation of cocoa is very labor-intensive and not very lucrative for small-scale farmers. As a result, some cocoa cultivators have already switched their crops to more heat-resistant, profitable, and easier to produce alternative commodities, such as maize.
Besides, the climate has been changing a lot over the past couple of years and global warming affects has large implications for the future of cocoa production. As per some studies, the leading cocoa-producing countries will experience a 2.1° Celsius increase in temperature by 2050, leading to decreased humidity and causing cocoa crops to suffer. Consequently, the regions where cocoa is currently being cultivated may no longer be suitable for cocoa production in the upcoming decades. The quantity and quality of cocoa have already been declining. Climate change also threatens farmers depending on cocoa for their livelihoods.
The rapidly increasing chocolate consumption in developing countries, paired with instability in cocoa-growing lands, is putting the future of chocolate at risk. Global chocolate consumption is witnessing a growth of two to three percent annually. India and China, and their combined population of over 2.7 billion people, are currently some of the fastest-growing chocolate markets. Growing middle classes, new consumer trends, and changing eating habits have triggered an increasing appetite for chocolate products in Asia. The supply of cocoa will not be enough to keep up with the world’s love for the sweet treat.
Experts predict that chocolate will become a rare and expensive luxury item. Since 2012, the price of cocoa beans has increased by almost two-thirds. The scarcity of pure and fine cocoa beans will lead chocolate makers to replace the cocoa with cheaper ingredients, such as sugar, palm oil, and nuts. Hence, chocolate products will be much sweeter and more sludgy. While chocolate’s days are numbered, consider this as an excuse to eat more chocolate!