Is Chocolate Going Extinct?

Say it isn't so!

By: Casey Austin

OK, everyone. Brace yourselves for this one. According to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), cacao plants will most likely be extinct by 2050. *gasp* How does this affect chocolate? Cacao (Theobroma cacao) trees grow large cacao pods with cacao beans inside. The beans are ground into a paste and are then used to make chocolate, so the short answer is that yes, this seriously affects your future chocolate intake. So, why are these plants going extinct?        

Location, location, location.

The NOAA explains that cacao can only grow in regions with intense heat year-round and rainforest-like conditions.  Only areas that are 20 degrees north and south of the equator share all of these necessary conditions. The world’s leading chocolate producers — Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia — collectively produce half of the world’s chocolate, but that could all change due to climate change. Research done by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) found that the average temperature increase for those countries will be 3.8°F by 2050. The higher the temperature, the more liquid escapes the soil and plants, therefore producing poorer quality crops.

Because of the rising temperature, the optimal locations will move uphill… 1,500ft uphill to be exact. Unfortunately, the areas of Ivory Coast and Ghana that are located that high above sea level do not permit cultivation. The IPCC predicts only 10.5% of current cacao-growing locations will be suitable for production in 2050. 

The good news: There’s hope!

The Independent reports that scientists at the University of California Berkeley are using CRISPR technology (a gene altering tool)  to try and modify the DNA of cacao plants.  If they can modify the plants to withstand a higher-temperature and lower humidity, future generations will enjoy the chocolate we all love.

Until then, consider this as an excuse to eat more dark chocolate; it’s good for you, too! 

Photo: iStock

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