Valentine’s Day without chocolate would be like Thanksgiving without turkey -- but scientists are saying that thanks to climate change and plant diseases, a cocoa shortage for future holidays is a very real possibility.
Americans alone will spend about $700 million on chocolate for Valentine’s Day this year. And with more of the world’s growing population now able to afford the sweet, international demand is soaring, according to a report in Scientific American.
Manufacturers are currently producing about 3.7 million metric tons of the crop -- an amount that is expected to be too small to satisfy customers by 2020, according to the report. Farmers and scientists are trying new tactics to multiply cocoa yields, such as using genome sequencing to produce tougher trees.
But the cocoa bean could already be in danger, according to authors and Mars Inc. food scientists Harold Schmitz and Howard-Yana Shapiro.
The crop -- Theobroma cacao, known as the “chocolate tree” -- is delicate and difficult to grow. The plant thrives only in a thin strip around the equator, where climate change has exacerbated weather patterns, causing high winds, droughts and floods, the report claims.
Devastating diseases such as frosty pod rot are sweeping through Latin America, killing trees. Experts fear that other ailments, such as witches’ broom, could be introduced to West Africa by accident or through bioterrorism and destroy much of the crop.
Other problems and pests abound, such as a Southeast Asian moth known as the cocoa pod borer that causes $600 million in crop losses annually. And, according to the report, many of the 6 million people who farm cocoa are so impoverished that they can’t afford top-notch seeds, fertilizers and fungicides to better protect their plants.
“We and others in the chocolate industry worry that without fast action on a number of fronts, cacao farming could slide into a downward spiral,” the authors wrote.