By Jonathan Marshall
“Climate change is not a hoax,” President Obama told cheering supporters at the Democratic convention on earlier this month. “More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future.”
All true enough. But he left out what some devoted addicts (like myself) might consider one of the biggest threats to our future: the potential loss of coffee and chocolate.
Agricultural experts say that both coffee and cocoa plants are highly sensitive to heat and drought—and already are in decline as global warming pushes up average temperatures in producing countries.
Reporting from Colombia last year, The New York Times noted that “in the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.”
Although the price of beans has retreated somewhat from last year’s peak, they remain higher than at any time in the decade before 2010. Peter Baker, a British researcher, has warned that world coffee production might be headed for a steady decline.
Last year, the Specialty Coffee Association of America offered a chilling warning of its own: “It is not too far-fetched to begin questioning the very existence of specialty coffee.”
The story is much the same for chocolate. The West African nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana, which supply half the world’s 3 million tons of cocoa, might become too hot and dry to produce their precious beans by 2050, according to a study issued last fall by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The loss of their crop would have a devastating impact on both countries, which rely on cocoa production for 7.5 percent and 3.4 percent of their GDP, respectively. The impoverishment of local peasants could lead to widespread social unrest and substitution of other crops like coca plants.
It also could lead to further sharp increases in the price of cocoa, which has already jumped from $714 per ton in 2000 to around $2,700 per ton today.
“What we are saying is that if we don’t take any action, there won’t be sufficient chocolate around in the future,” said Peter Läderach, the report’s lead author.
Ghana’s Cocoa Board is fighting back with measures to rehabilitate old and abandoned farms, subsidize fertilizer supplies for peasants, and control pests that thrive when plants are stressed. More irrigation and planting shade trees will help as well.
But unless and until new drought-resistant cocoa varieties are genetically engineered—a very long-term proposition—the farmers might be out of luck, according to Läderach.
Try to imagine a world without your morning cup of Joe, Valentine’s Day, or “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” That should be reason enough to spur us all to action on global warming
Email Jonathan Marshall at email@example.com.