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If climate change is not stopped, millions of cocoa farmers will lose their source of income

How climate change is destroying cocoa production

Millions of cocoa farmers worldwide are affected by the consequences of climate change. In some cases, their harvests have been halved, reducing even further the incomes of families often living on the poverty line.

Picture: Selling cocoa fruit in Ghana / Antoshananarivo(CC BY-SA 4.0 cropped)

Due to the low income prospects, more and more young people are turning their backs on cocoa farming and moving to the cities. The chocolate industry is aware of this problem. It fears a decreasing supply of the raw material cocoa and invests one billion US dollars to support small farmers. But if climate change is not stopped, millions of cocoa farmers will lose their source of income.

Livelihoods of millions of families at risk

Whether in Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Indonesia or Ecuador, cocoa farmers everywhere are struggling with the consequences of climate change. In some regions, it is the heat that reduces yields; in others, increased rainfall causes the fertility of the soil to decline. In still other regions, it is diseases and fungi that benefit from the changed climate and attack the cocoa plants.

For Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, this is an immense problem. Millions of farmers depend on income from cocoa cultivation. As early as 2030, some growing regions will no longer be usable for cocoa cultivation due to climate change.

By 2050, when the average temperature is expected to have risen by about 2 degrees, large parts of West Africa will be too hot for cocoa cultivation.

Chocolate industry invests one billion US dollars - others rely on fair trade

The seriousness of the problem can be seen in the reaction of international chocolate producers. In 2014, ten large companies joined forces to counteract the declining yields of cocoa farmers through technical countermeasures. Cultivation methods are to be improved and irrigation systems financed. Research into a genetically improved cocoa plant that would also thrive under extreme weather conditions is also being discussed.

Other producers are focusing on fair production of the cocoa and fair remuneration of the cocoa farmers. They hope that a higher price per kilo for cocoa will offset farmers' diminishing returns due to climate change.

Climate change will wipe out these investments

But experts agree that these countermeasures will only help in the short term. An article in the Wall Street Journal, for example, says that while the chocolate industry can pump more and more money into the system and keep improving farming methods, in the end unchecked climate change will undo all efforts.

Genetically modified cocoa plants also harbour dangers. The fate of Indian cotton farmers is a cautionary example. Their new, genetically modified plants only work with a special fertiliser. Millions of farmers could not afford this fertiliser permanently. They got caught in a whirlpool of debts and interest payments. An estimated 200,000 farmers were so desperate that they took poison. The suicide rate among Indian farmers rose sharply after the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Similarly, switching to fair-trade products is not a long-term solution. If farmers harvest less due to climate change, then fair trade cocoa prices would have to rise immensely to compensate for the lower yield per unit area. If yields fall faster than the fair wage rises, the farmers who produce fairly will also end up with less income.

Climate change: It is not the cocoa farmers who drive SUVs or go on holiday to Thailand.

But it is neither Ghanaian cocoa farmers who drive SUVs through their villages nor Ivorian farmers who fly to Thailand on holiday. Climate change, which will deprive them of their livelihoods in the medium term, has been caused by others. For example, we Europeans. If everyone lived the way we do in Germany, we would need 2.6 planets. That means: the average German consumes 2.6 times more "raw materials" (clean air, water, petroleum, minerals) than the Earth's ecosystem can withstand. Or even more concretely: The average German thus consumes as many raw materials as there should be enough for almost 3 people (2.6).

(Insert: 70 per cent, or more than two-thirds, of the world's carbon dioxide emissions are caused by about a hundred companies: Coal, oil and gas companies. Blaming individual consumers above all distracts from this and weakens resistance against it:

If we do not succeed in redirecting our attention, if we do not succeed in consuming less and/or using the available resources more sustainably, then we will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of small farmers and their families. And it would only be a matter of time before at least some of these people also set off in search of a better future elsewhere.

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