Chocolate bars, chocolate chips, chocolate ice cream — in 30 years these delicious treats may be no more.
That’s because climate change is making the habitat for cacao trees uninhabitable, according the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency.
If global temperatures increase by more than 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.1 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, which they’re projected to do, then cocoa could simply become too hard to grow.
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It’s not the rise in heat that will drive the extinction of these plants, according to NOAA. Instead, it’s the decline in rainfall and humidity. As more moisture is drawn from soil in the decades ahead because of rising temperatures, it’s unlikely that rainfall will increase in proportion to make up for the loss.
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Cocoa beans are finicky. They can really only grow in what is known as the “chocolate belt,” a span 20 degrees above the equator and 20 degrees below the equator, where temperatures are high, light is abundant, and precipitation is heavy, according to Amano Chocolate.
These conditions are already changing in some of the world’s top chocolate producing countries like the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia, and it’s leading to a decline in production.
Around 90% of cocoa is grown by small subsistence farmers who often do not have the means for adaptation and are sometimes driven to abandon their farms when their plants fail, according to Hardman Agribusiness’ general director Doug Hawkins who spoke with the Daily Mail.
The looming chocolate shortage is further affected by global demand. The average Western consumer consumes 286 chocolate bars a year, according to Hardman Agribusiness, which requires 10 cacao trees worth of raw materials.
Demand in developing countries like China and India is also increasing, Hardman Agribusiness notes, so as the global production of chocolate declines, demand keeps rising.
According to NOAA, it’s unlikely that enough other regions will become suitable for coffee production in the future to meet demand. But there could be a way to keep chocolate in supermarkets everywhere even if climate change continues to get worse.
Genetic modification technology could help cacao trees survive in changing conditions, according to Business Insider.
Researchers are currently working to develop cacao plants that are more drought- and heat-resistant. They’re using a gene-editing enzyme known as CRISPR to precisely alter the DNA of cacao plants, Business Insider reports.
If this technology makes it to farmers within the chocolate belt, then they may be able to continue harvesting the beloved cocoa bean in the decades ahead.
And then people can keep eating their 286 chocolate bars a year.