Cacao beans grow best in the places where chocolate would melt in your hands, but over the next several decades, many of those environments may grow warmer, drier, and less suitable for its cultivation. While cacao can be grown in warmer places than coffee, cacao thrives in humid environments. As temperatures rise, so will evaporation, and projections suggest that there will not be enough increased rainfall to offset the moisture loss.
Leading cocoa and chocolate companies recognize the threat that climate change poses to cocoa sustainability. Earlier this week, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) announced the launch of a new program designed to strengthen collaboration between the public and private sector to address the issue by developing solutions and helping farmers adapt. Climate modeling suggests that various regions may need to change crops and cropping strategies, or implement adaptive management practices, in order to maintain cocoa supply and viable livelihoods for the millions of smallholder farmers around the globe.
West Africa accounts for more than 70 percent of global cocoa output, while Central America's cocoa sector is smaller but has been growing rapidly in recent years. The WCF program will build on existing industry commitments to increase cocoa productivity among smallholder producers in countries including Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Liberia as well as the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
“Climate change will have significant impact on cocoa in West Africa with the majority of effects projected to occur by 2030. This means that cacao planted today will need to adapt to changing rainfall patterns as well as higher temperatures during its productive lifespan,” said Mark Lundy, the Theme Leader on Linking Farmers to Markets at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
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“This new initiative is critical because it inserts solid climate projections for cocoa into private sector decision-making processes, allows for dialogues with public agencies and donors, and prioritizes collective investment plans to ensure a resilient cocoa sector that benefits farmers, companies and consumers into the future.”
WCF member companies involved include Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Ecom Agrotrade, The Hershey Company, Lindt & Sprüngli, Mars, Inc., Nestlé, Olam International Ltd, and Touton. These private sector partners will develop a common strategy to address climate's impacts on cocoa and develop innovations to assist farmers in adapting to changing weather patterns, such as research and development of climate resilient planting material, improved farming practices, and new agroforestry models, with support and expertise from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the non-profit ACDI/VOCA.
The program will also focus on the challenge of deforestation in cocoa growing regions, and will include collaboration with technical experts such as the CIAT on ongoing research on climate modeling and deforestation mapping.
“Addressing climate change is an important priority for the cocoa and chocolate industry, farmers, small businesses and national governments in origin producing countries, and the broader international community,” said WCF Acting President Tim McCoy. “Addressing this issue today will help prepare for tomorrow and will build the foundation for a strong private sector platform.
“Investing in climate smart cocoa is a critical step in ensuring greater sustainability in the cocoa sector and positions our industry to respond to the realities of climate change discussed at COP21 in Paris last year.”