Chocolate shortage imminent as consumption outpaces production

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 By

result of chocolate shortage

Chocolate lovers may have their hearts broken by a chocolate shortage, but genetic engineering of cocoa trees could save the day. Image: CC Rev Dan Cat/Flickr

A chocolate shortage is looming on the horizon, which could make it as expensive as caviar. Worldwide cultivation of cocoa trees is diminishing as demand for chocolate is increasing. To prevent a collapse of the chocolate industry, scientists have sequenced the cocoa genome in an effort to genetically engineer tougher, more productive cocoa trees.

Chocolate as expensive as caviar

Warnings of a chocolate shortage are being sounded by the Cocoa Research Association, which has said that world chocolate consumption is outpacing cocoa production. According to the association, in 20 years chocolate could be as rare to the average person as caviar and a single bar could cost as much as $11.  Chocolate prices have already doubled in the past six years. As cocoa prices rise, the majority of growth in the $5.8 billion dollar chocolate industry is in high-end products.

Why chocolate prices are skyrocketing

Cocoa is notoriously difficult to harvest. Cocoa trees only grow close to the equator. Most cocoa plantations are in West Africa, where poor farmers make about 80 cents a day harvesting it by hand for major corporations. Primitive farming techniques have exhausted the soil, and farmers are giving up to pursue better livings in the cities and towns. After several years of declining cocoa harvests, a group of hedge funds added pressure to rising cocoa prices with a $1.7 trillion purchase of 241,000 tons of cocoa beans. They control more than 15 percent of the world’s cocoa supply.

Genetic engineering the future of chocolate industry

Cocoa plantations are disappearing in the face of competition for agricultural acreage with commodities like palm oil, which is increasingly lucrative due to demand for biofuels. However, there’s a collaboration among IBM, Mars Candy Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sequence the cocoa genome. Scientists are using the plant’s genetic code to find traits that make the cocoa trees stronger, more productive and disease-resistant. Chocolate as we know it may ultimately survive thanks to science that figures out how to produce more cocoa in less space.


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