Back in 2010, scientists announced what was their first draft of the chocolate genome, or genetic makeup, of the criollo variety. As climate change continues to affect the planet, cocoa is in danger of dying out entirely within the next 100 years. Some will argue carob can be a suitable replacement, although there simply is no substitute. Sandra Boynton, CHOCOLATE: The Consuming Passion, states, “Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an adequate substitute for chocolate…because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.” This genome extracted may be the ‘savior’ of the treat we all know and love, despite the ever-changing climate.
If cocoa could be cultivated anywhere in the world, they would be more common than apple trees, even garden vegetables. They are however restricted to about 20D north and south of the equator. The theobroma trees prosper in specific conditions including uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen rich soil, and protection from wind. Long of the short – they thrive in rainforests. Published in 2014, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability expects the average global temperature to experience an average 3.8D F increase by 2050 (which is still on pace), which significantly impacts the already-slim growing areas for cocoa to be cultivated. It is not necessarily the heat which if affecting this crop in particular, rather the lack of humidity and dryer air quality. This will not be one ‘clean sweep’ of rising temperatures however – with extreme highs and lows possible, different regions will be affected at different times. Malaysia is currently enduring a warmer climate than seen in West Africa, which in turn requires farmers to adapt to the weather as quickly as possible, or face an eventual chocolate apocalypse if the world continues on this pace.
These higher temperatures also do not permit higher rainfall. But what about evaporation?? These areas will be enduring evapotranspiration, where the higher temperatures ‘squeeze’ more water out of soil and plants, but a potential rainfall is not expected to offset the loss of moisture from these organisms.
Off the Ivory Coast in Ghana, which is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, is facing a commodity epidemic, and an ensuing uphill-battle (see below).
The chocolate genome comes into play as scientists can engineer cocoa to sustain these changing climates, although say ‘goodbye’ to chocolate’s Non-GMO labels if the globe continues at its current pace, with no clear signs of taking significant action.
Encyclopedia of Life. (2012). Theobroma cacao.
Scott, Michon. (2016). Climate & Chocolate.