Because of disease, drought, rapacious new markets and the displacement of cacao by more- productive crops such as corn and rubber, demand is expected to outstrip supply by an additional one million tons every decade for the foreseeable future. The world is running out of chocolate, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Holiday 2014 issue.
Last year, we again consumed more cocoa than we were able to produce. This year, despite an unexpected bumper crop, supply barely kept pace with the recent upswing in demand.
From 1993 to 2007, the price of cocoa averaged $ 1,465 US a ton; during the subsequent six years, the average was $ 2,736.
Chocolate lovers rarely pause to consider that cocoa might be an exhaustible resource. Those who do generally assume that the biggest threat is climate change, which is indeed expected to have severe negative consequences.
However catastrophic, the threat of drought pales in comparison with that of disease. Frosty pod colonized Costa Rica in just two years.
Witches’ broom, another devastating fungus, in 1989 infiltrated the Brazilian state of Bahia.
Before witches’ broom, Brazil was the world’s second- largest exporter of cocoa. Today, it’s a net importer. Neither frosty pod nor witches’ broom have yet descended on Africa — responsible for 70 per cent of the planet’s production — but Mark Guiltinan, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University, believes it’s only a matter of time.
The world will respond to the mounting crisis in two ways: The first is manufacturers will stretch dwindling chocolate supplies by augmenting them with other ingredients, such as flavour chemicals. Chocolate bars will contain more nuts and other fillers. And their size will likely be reduced.
The race to improve cacao is accelerating. Of the multiple newly introduced strains, the most renowned comes from Costa Rica’s cocoa- producing rival to the south, Ecuador. CCN51, as the breed is called, is resistant to witches’ broom and produces nearly seven times more beans than its traditional Ecuadorian counterpart. Unfortunately, there’s a major trade- off: taste.
The website The Cspot, which publishes flavour profiles of many varieties of cacao, describes CCN51 as “weak basal cocoa with thin fruit overlay; lead and wood shavings.”
If there’s hope for the flavour of chocolate, it’s growing in the north of Costa Rica, where a farmer named Jose Gerardo Ramirez has plowed under seven hectares of pineapples in favour of a potentially far more lucrative crop: high- performing cacao developed by a Central American agricultural research organization.
The saplings Ramirez planted in 2012 produced their first harvest this year. The yield was minuscule, but within a few years, Ramirez expects to be reaping harvests of 1,500 kilograms a hectare — more than seven times the Costa Rican average. He’s not worried about frosty pod, because his trees are resistant. More important, the strains should appeal to producers of high- quality chocolate because of their fine flavour.