Can you imagine a world without chocolate, a world where Willy Wonka’s flowing rivers of chocolate didn’t exist? Neither can we.
Some experts are predicting that in a matter of decades a drop in cocoa production due to changing weather and agricultural patterns may make chocolate as expensive as caviar. It is said to become so rare that household with average incomes or below may not be able to enjoy this tasty treat on a regular basis. If you’re like us, you may have already started breaking into your piggy banks and emptying out the nearest vending machines as a precaution.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that chocolate actually comes from trees. Much of the world’s cocoa is grown by farmers in West Africa and with the current changes in environment (climate change is a major culprit), it’s becoming harder for farmers to find incentives to produce these worthwhile, yet labor intensive crops. The average chocolate bar costs about $1.50 CDN, while smallholders earn a fraction of that - about 80 cents a day. We also can’t forget to mention the primitive farming techniques that are commonly used in these countries, which exhausts the soil and drives it to infertility.
Another major issue for the cocoa business is the competition faced from other financially appealing crops. To date, their biggest competitor is palm oil – which is currently in high demand due to its usage for biofuels and rubber, amongst other things.
However, there is a promising solution that may have you gluing your piggy bank back together. A joint effort by IBM, Mars Candy Co. and the US Department of Agriculture is attempting to sequence the cocoa genome. Scientists are using the plant’s genetic code to find traits that would make the cocoa trees stronger, more productive and disease resistant. It looks like we won’t have to go without our favourite treat after all!
Starfish followers – what do you think? Is cocoa essential to our lives and to the economy? Should we be using sciences to improve the crop, or are we headed in a dangerous direction? Let us know your thoughts.