Why You May Not Be Able to Get Your Chocolate Fix in Five Years

Two words: global warming.

If, even in this summer of swelter, you’ve been more or less ignoring global warming in hopes that it will all go away, we’ve got really bad news. It’s so hot in West Africa, where more than half the world’s cocoa is produced, that the industry is predicting serious shortages in the years ahead.

The problem, according to an article in Scientific American: The optimum altitude for growing cocoa beans has traditionally been 300 to 800 feet above sea level. But rising temperatures throughout the world are expected to increase that to 1,400 to 1,600 feet by the year 2050. That means growing cocoa in the traditional mainstays of production, Ivory Coast and Ghana, will no longer be possible.

Worldwide, three tons of cocoa beans are produced annually; the World Cocoa Foundation has warned production could drop by half by 2020. And demand is only on the rise. In 2000, cocoa beans sold for $714 a ton. (We like thinking about that—a ton! Of chocolate!) By the spring of 2011, that had risen to $3,775. As of Tuesday, cocoa-bean futures were up 13 percent since January. Though efforts to develop drought-tolerant tree varieties are ongoing, such research takes time. So does growing a cacao tree to the point it bears fruit: usually five years.

The problem has repercussions way beyond what you pay for your Valhrona Vintage Single Origin bars. Experts are warning of possible food riots as crop yields decline for Africa’s small-scale farmers, as well as the chance that farmers will turn instead to producing coca for the cocaine trade, with all the risks of violence that entails.

On a smaller scale, as growers push into new, cooler territory, the taste of their product, as dependent on terroir as fine wine, could also undergo change. Just something to think about the next time you’re tempted to push the air conditioning up a couple of notches.