We all know that climate change is affecting just about every aspect of our lives - including the chocolate we enjoy so much. But what exactly does climate change have to do with the cocoa plant and thus with chocolate? We will get to the bottom of this connection in the following.
We all know that climate change affects almost all areas of our lives - including the chocolate we enjoy so much. But what exactly does climate change have to do with the cocoa plant and thus with our chocolate? We will get to the bottom of this connection in the following.
THE COCOA TREE AND ITS SENSITIVITIES
Around 70% of the world's cocoa grows in West Africa, mainly in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. The climatic conditions there are actually ideal for cocoa cultivation: it rains a lot in the rainy seasons, in between there are dry periods with sufficient sunshine, there is high humidity and at the same time warm but not too hot temperatures all year round. Cocoa trees are very special, but also sensitive plants. You can read about what exactly makes them so special in our blog post about bees on cocoa plantations.
The trees need very specific weather conditions to grow well and ripen cocoa pods. As soon as the climatic balance is disturbed, for example by too much rainfall outside the rainy seasons or too long dry periods, the cocoa plant suffers. For example, on the one hand, too long dry periods and lack of rain lead to the death of young cocoa plants and, on the other hand, too much rain can lead to greater insect and fungal infestation (G. J. Anim-Kwapong, E. B. Frimpong). Due to the sensitivity of cocoa plants, climate change has an extreme impact on cocoa farming and thus on the lives of cocoa farmers and also on our chocolate.
THE PROBLEMS FOR COCOA FARMING CAUSED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
Several problems arise for cocoa cultivation as a result of the change in climatic conditions in West Africa. The three characteristic problems are explained below.
LOWER YIELDS WITH THE SAME CULTIVATED AREA AND TIME EXPENDITURE
In the past, cocoa farmers could rely on their trees, which guaranteed the income of the whole family if they took good care of them. The profits from the cocoa harvest are usually the main income of the families, which is used to pay for errands, school fees and medical bills. But in recent years, due to climatic changes, the farmers have to reckon more and more with uncontrollable crop failures. Good care is no longer sufficient for a secure income; it depends on the weather whether the profits from the cocoa harvest are sufficient or not.
REDUCTION OF CULTIVATED AREAS
In order to get the most out of the cocoa trees despite the increasingly smaller harvest, some farmers use environmentally damaging production methods such as strong pesticides and closer planting of the plantations. This leaches the soil so much that they soon have to switch to other cultivation areas. In addition, more land is lost in regions where there is no longer enough rainfall or where temperatures have risen too much. The usable land area for cocoa cultivation is thus becoming smaller and smaller.
SPREAD OF DISEASES
Besides climate change, one virus in particular threatens the cocoa plants: Cacao Swollen Shoot Disease, or CSSD for short. The leaves change colour, the trunk swells and the tree dies completely within a few years. The disease is triggered by badnaviruses that occur on the African continent. However, since the cocoa tree originally comes from South America, it has no natural resistance to these viruses. The changing climatic conditions also benefit the virus.
SOLUTIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE COCOA FARMING UNDER FAIR CONDITIONS
As difficult as the situation looks, it can also be seen as an opportunity: an opportunity for sustainable organic farming and for fairer pay for farmers.
Fairafric sources cocoa from the first organic cocoa initiative in Ghana. There we see the improvements that organic farming brings to the trees, the farms and the farmers. The cocoa plants are more robust, the soils healthier and the ecosystem intact through diversified cultivation, so that fluctuations in rainfall and temperature and CSSD cannot do as much damage. So-called "green barriers", a strip of forest around the cocoa plantation, prevent the virus from reaching the cocoa trees. Larger plants on the plantation provide shade and mitigate excessively high temperatures. Such sustainability initiatives will become increasingly important in the future.
Organic farming alone, however, is not enough for sustainable management. The cocoa must be sold at a reasonable price so that the families of the cocoa farmers can live well from it. Only if ecological and social factors are taken into account can we sustainably save the future of the cocoa trees in West Africa - despite climate change and diseases.