Chocolate On The Road: Is Chocolate Going Extinct?

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“Each and every handmade chocolate producer in the United States might say, ‘we want to purchase cocoa from Ghana and [the] Ivory Coast,’ and even if they did, it would be like the smallest droplet in the enormous ocean that is cocoa in West Africa.”

-Dr. Kristy Leissle, Author of COCOA

In the last year of the decade, near the end of 2014, a number of articles were published that triggered a series of jokes as well as serious doubts concerning the future of the world’s cacao supply, specifically whether or not it would diminish and eventually vanish by the year 2050. It is difficult to imagine that cocoa will no longer be grown in thirty years. But I was interested in investigating the concept that launched this chocolate craze and prompted more cacao trees to be planted than you could possibly fathom at the time.

What are the potential triggers for a chocopocalypse, and how are we currently addressing them? Do these characteristics differ from place to region, or do cacao grown in Asia and cacao grown in Africa exist on two independent planes? I chatted with a cocoa researcher, a chocolate producer, and a cacao environmentalist to get some insight into these problems and discover some solutions. The topic of today’s episode, which is also the last one of Season 2, is whether or not it is possible to prevent the demise of chocolate in its current form.

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Topics We Cover

  • the challenges that cocoa producers confront in key cocoa-growing locations around the world, including Africa, Asia, and the Americas
  • how the quality of cocoa has increased over the last five and a half years
  • what the present state of the cacao market is like, and what implications this may have for local producers
  • the impact that changes in climate are having on cocoa plantations all throughout the globe.
  • how and at what costs do farmers decide whether to grow cocoa plants or cut them down?
  • the issues that we seem to believe handcrafted chocolate may resolve

Show Timeline

0:00-4:55~ Episode introduction to cacao growing regions and the atmosphere on a cacao farm, as well as the potential downfalls of cacao as a species.

4:55-15:10~ The increased quality of cacao from the Americas in recent years, and the meager returns for farmers. (Jan Schubert)

15:10-29:40~ Stories other people want to tell about African cocoa, how craft chocolate has affected West African farmers, and what effects climate change has already brought about on Ghanaian cocoa farms. (Kristy Leissle)

29:40-41:00~ How compound chocolate has both fed & stalled Asian chocolate consumption, and what the future of Asian cacao cultivation hinges upon. (Wilfred Ng)

41:00-43:09~ Final words on the future of cocoa cultivation around the world, and the one factor which could make all the difference. Also, the end of the episode.

More About Our Guests

Researcher on cocoa based in Ghana and lecturer in the Global Studies department at the University of Washington-Bothell, Dr. Kristy Leissle In addition to writing COCOA, Kristy Leissle is also a published novelist. You should check out her book, as well as her website and Instagram.

Jan Schubert is the Conservation Cacao Leader at Original Beans Chocolate, which was founded in Amsterdam and runs conservation programs in Latin American countries. Visit the Original Beans website, as well as their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Wilfred Ng is the Cacao Sourcer and Owner of Benn’s Ethicoa in Selangor, Malaysia. Benn’s Ethicoa is a bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. Check out Benn’s Website, as well as his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Further Reading

  • Some of the articles sensationalizing cacao’s “extinction” are here, here, and more recently here
  • Episode 13 of this show, on Why We Buy Craft Chocolate
  • What is compound chocolate?
  • Why palm oil sucks
  • Read Dr. Kristy Leissle’s book, COCOA
  • Listen to other fascinating interviews with Dr. Kristy Leissle on the Well Tempered Podcast and Unwrapped Podcast