A Valentine’s Day Without Chocolate?

Image: Flickr (mellyjean)
As far as I’m concerned, Valentine’s Day is all about the chocolate. What’s better than a day to indulge my chocoholic inclinations guilt-free?

But, recent reports have me worried that the future of chocolate is fraught with uncertainty. This month’s Scientific American features an article by two scientists at Mars, Inc, who are raising alarms about cocoa agriculture around the world.  Pests, fungal infections, limited genetic diversity, and (you guessed it!) climate change top their lists of concerns.

Cocoa and Climate

It turns out that the cocoa tree is rather fussy about its growing conditions. The large cocoa plantations around the world are located in places where mean temperatures range between 72 and 77 degrees F, typically within a narrow band around the equator out to about 18 degrees north and south latitude.

A study of cocoa growing regions in the Ivory Coast and Ghana found that if temperature increase by just 3.6 degrees F, areas where cocoa is currently grown will become significantly less suitable. The most suitable areas move from a range of 100 to 250 meters above sea level to a range of 450 to 500 meters about sea level by 2050.

In addition to shifting average temperature and precipitation conditions, climate change is affecting weather and climate extremes. A trend toward more droughts and floods will affect the water supply in cocoa growing regions. And, heavier monsoon rains in Indonesia have already been blamed for knocking cocoa flowers off the trees before pods can be formed.

What’s more, changes in weather and climate extremes could make the cocoa plant even more susceptible to pests and fungal infections. These sorts of infections are nothing to sneeze at! In 1988, cocoa production in Bahia, Brazil dropped by 80 percent when the fungal disease witches’ broom swept through the area. And, today, frosty pod rot is infecting cocoa trees in Latin America.

Safeguarding Chocolate and Wildlife

Before you start stockpiling chocolate in advance of this Cocoapocalypse (yes, I went there!), there are actions that can safeguard chocolate.  First and foremost, we need to curb the carbon pollution that is causing climate change. Limiting the magnitude of climate change will have benefits for both cocoa farming and wildlife.

Another option that has good co-benefits for wildlife was the subject of a recent scientific study of small farmers in Indonesia. They found that wildlife-friendly farming approaches that maintain high levels of biodiversity can be implemented and still retain high yield of cocoa crops.

Let’s make sure that we have chocolate (and my other favorite foods!) around for many Valentine’s Days to come!

Take Action

From polar bears to pika, cocoa trees are just one of a long list species threatened by climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency is moving to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and it needs to know that you stand behind this critical effort. Tell the EPA that Americans support limits on carbon pollution to protect the future of polar bears.