Special edition: Beyond 2020 - The future of sustainable cocoa

Hot chocolate: How will industry protect its key commodity from climate change?

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Chocolate industry must invest to ensure farmers adapt to climate change. Photo credit: Oxfam
Chocolate industry must invest to ensure farmers adapt to climate change. Photo credit: Oxfam

Related tags Cocoa Chocolate Climate change Global warming

Rising temperatures could seriously change where cocoa is grown in the next half-century and global output could be threatened if the chocolate industry does nothing to protect its key crop.

Research suggests many areas in West Africa will become unsuitable for cocoa growing as temperatures climb 2°C by 2050. Cocoa farming therefor must be intensified in West Africa in suitable regions and farmers in other origins in Latin America and Asia must be taught how to grow cocoa sustainably to meet global demand for the commodity, which is rising due to Asia’s appetite for chocolate.

This means training a new generation of farmers that are perhaps unfamiliar with cocoa and promoting the sector as a viable livelihood. All that requires money - will financing be left to origin governments or is the industry willing to pay as demand for chocolate rises 2% a year?

Hotter climate threatens West African cocoa

A 2011 study​ by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) said temperatures in some regions of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which together account for 60% of global cocoa production, would become unsuitable for cocoa growing as rainfall decreases and the temperature rises 1.2°C  by 2030 and 2.1°C by 2050.

“That will have a big impact on West Africa’s cocoa producing area – it will be too hot to produce cocoa,”​ Carolina Aguilar, Nicaragua director of Lutheran World Relief, an NGO works with smallholder cocoa producers in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, told ConfectioneryNews.

CIAT’s study said current cocoa-growing areas in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire will decrease “quite seriously by 2050 because of the temperature increases.”

cocoa suitability joint
Cocoa growing areas in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire depleted with temperature increase. CIAT compares 2011 suitable growing areas (left) with estimates in 2030 (right) after a 1.2°C temperature increase.

The world’s third largest cocoa producing nation, Indonesia, may also face challenges.

Dr. Soetanto Abdoellah, chairman of the Indonesian Cocoa Board, told this site: “Increasing temperatures will have a negative impact on cocoa productivity. We have to be very concerned with this. An increase in temperature of 1-2°C  will lower the yield more or less 10-15% [in Indonesia].”

Latin American cocoa to profit from climate change

CIAT cocoa 2050
CIAT estimates suitable cocoa growing areas in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire will be seriously reduced by a 2.1°C increase in temperature by 2050.

This may mean cocoa growing is intensified in suitable growing areas, but cocoa production may also be stepped up in other origins.

Aguilar said: “Other areas may become more suitable [for cocoa production] but farmers will need help in adapting to this new reality.”

The NGO country chief said some countries in Latin America and Central America such as Nicaragua would become more suitable to produce cocoa as temperatures increased, while other crops such as coffee would become less viable.

NGOs are already encouraging coffee farmers in the region to multi-crop with cocoa to support their income in a changing environment. But Aguilar said cocoa was a very different crop to manage for farmers and said producers would need to be taught good agricultural practices (GAP) such as using shade for cocoa trees from other crops to create a sustainable supply and income source.

‘Money is always an issue’

Latin America and Central America cocoa origin countries are targeting fine flavor cocoa for premium chocolate to command a higher price for their farmers and to raise higher tax revenues, so farmers need to be particularly well-trained to manage their crop.

But who will pay for the training? “Money is always an issue,”​ said Aguilar. She said some states such as Nicaragua and El Salvador had plans to invest in the cocoa sector, but added chocolate manufacturers and cocoa processors should also pay to protect their core commodity.

“I think the industry needs to be more aware of the problem – their supply chain may be affected by climate variation. They need to come closer to origin.”

Aguilar said that while some bean-to-bar producers and manufacturers such as Ritter Sport and Chocolats Halba were coming closer to farmers and paying a decent price for cocoa beans, multinationals were too far detached from cocoa growing and paid low rates at commodity exchanges, keeping cocoa farmers poor and discouraged from growing cocoa.

Controlling supply chains

Ritter plantation

Some companies are taking greater control of their supply chain to protect themselves from volatile cocoa prices and to better reward farmers. Ritter Sport for example owns a cocoa planation in Nicaragua​ that will eventually cover 30% of its cocoa needs.

Do farmers need a bigger piece of the chocolate bar?

Aguilar continued: “There’s still a disproportionate benefit. Farmers receive a very low value for what they are doing.”

The latest Cocoa Barometer report​, compiled by, a consortium of European civil society organizations that includes Oxfam, Solidaridad and the VOICE Network, estimates just 6.6% of the value of a $1 chocolate bar reaches the farmer, while chocolate manufacturers receive 35.2% and retail & taxes take 44.2%.

“Something needs to be done to lower this gap,”​ said Aguilar

Consistently paying a higher price for cocoa, rewarding quality with greater premiums and investing in stronger farming organizations will not only support incomes of cocoa farmers, many of whom live below the World Bank’s threshold of absolute poverty on $1.25, it will secure the chocolate industry a sustainable supply of cocoa in a volatile market where the climate could seriously change the dynamics.

Industry’s role and carbon trading

Some large chocolate companies have acknowledged the changing climate’s potential impact on commodities. Mars said in a recent interview with The Guardian​ that it, along with Nestlé, supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. “If Mars can’t get cocoa, rice, fish for our pet food business or mint for our gum, we’re really in a lot of trouble,”​ Brad Figel, vice president of public affairs at Mars, was quoted as saying.

The Indonesian Cocoa Board’s chairman Dr. Abdoellah said carbon trading – whereby the industry pays farmers carbon credits for implementing sound farming practices – could be key to mitigating the impact of a rising climate. “But the implementation of carbon trading is still difficult because who will pay?” ​Abdoellah said.

Farmers could be credited for GAP implementation, but much of the industry does not have strong enough links with farmers to directly pay carbon credits because they tend to trade in cocoa on commodity exchanges, he said.

But he added that in Indonesia some industry players such as Mars, Mondelēz and Barry Callebaut that have factories in the country had partnerships to buy directly from groups of farmers so were able to offer incentives to implement good farming techniques.

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