A world without chocolate is one that sophomore Hannah Kassebaum never imagined.
“It would be like you telling me the sun would explode, or the wind stop blowing, or water drying up all over the earth—It would have to be a sign of the end of the world,” she said.
Unfortunately for Kassebaum, the world is running short of cocoa—chocolate’s main ingredient.
According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), the demand for chocolate will soon exceed the available supply.
Within the next 20 years chocolate could become a rare and expensive delicacy and unless preventative measures are taken, chocolate could disappear entirely.
Sophomore Karissa Herrick, who eats chocolate-covered raisins for breakfast every morning, had trouble accepting the idea.
“I didn’t even think that something like that could happen,” she said.
Colleen Trachy, a senior, heard rumors about a cocoa shortage but shared Herrick’s incredulity.
“I thought it was one of those conspiracy theories that people talk about but probably wouldn’t come true—like the world ending in 2012,” she explained.
The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) estimates that West Africa accounts for 70 percent of the three million tons of cocoa produced annually, and the Ivory Coast supplies one third of that amount.
During the 2008-2009 growing season, the Ivory Coast experienced its weakest harvest since 2000-2001. The demand for cocoa has been increasing by 3 percent annually for the past century, supporting the ICCO’s prediction.
Cocoa is also produced throughout Asia, the Caribbean and South America but experts doubt that production in those areas will salvage the cocoa industry. This is especially true since chocolate is becoming increasingly appealing to markets in developing countries like India and China, causing consumption rates to skyrocket.
The ICCO also attributes the increasing demand for cocoa to a shift in consumer preferences from milk to dark chocolate, which requires higher levels of cocoa content.
According to the ICCO, this shift has likely occurred due to the health benefits of dark chocolate, including its efficiency with lowering blood pressure and providing antioxidants.
The WCF estimates that up to 50 million people rely on harvesting cocoa as their primary means of income. However, 95 percent of growers live below the poverty line and according to the Independent, the average cocoa farmer makes 80 cents a day.
The geography department at University of California-Santa Barbara reports that approximately 109,000 of the farmers in West Africa are forced child laborers.
According to WCF, the average cocoa farm is only about two to three hectares, which is between five and seven acres, and, due to existing cultivation techniques, much of that land is no longer fertile.
Much of the available land is instead being used for the cultivation of more profitable crops, like palm oil and rubber.
Harvesting cocoa has always been reputed to be a difficult process. With additional issues such as of crop failure due to pests and cocoa tree specific diseases, like “Black Pod Disease” and “Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus,” harvesting cocoa in the region has become even more problematic.
Combining these problems with the Ivory Coast’s history of political unrest and volatile weather conditions, many workers are heading to urban areas to search for more stable employment.
Several companies have vowed to help mitigate the cocoa shortage, however. Last year, Nestle announced that it would assist in planting one million disease-resistant cocoa trees every year for the next decade.
Discovery News is also optimistic, claiming that if farmers are taught superior cultivation techniques, like planting cocoa beans in the shade instead of in direct sunlight, production could increase.
In addition, the organization suggests that fair trade initiatives could avert the shortage. If higher prices are offered to the farmers, they predict increases in production.
“If we are willing to pay a high enough price for chocolate, then it will be produced,” UMW Economics Professor Robert Rycroft explained. “[But] if it becomes too expensive we’ll simply substitute something else in its place and go on our merry way.”
If this happens, Rycroft believes there is no reason to fret.
“Chocolate is nice because it tastes good and helps relieve stress, but it doesn’t prevent cancer or recessions and it probably causes obesity and acne,” he said.
Despite enjoying the occasional piece of chocolate, sophomore Kendall Britt feels similarly.
“I can live without it,” she said.
Until cocoa bean harvests increase and more land is granted to cocoa farms, Rycroft believes chocoholics like Kassebaum have reason to be worried.
“Chocolate will become a thing of the past,” he said.