Support cocoa farmers or face a ‘chocolate crisis’, warns academic
Prof David Guest from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney delivered a presentation titled ‘The Chocolate Crisis’ at his University last week.
Speaking to ConfectioneryNews.com, he talked about the potential threats to the industry and how a supply shortage can be averted.
“I see the biggest threat as the declining profitability of cocoa farming for smallholder producers,” said Guest.
“If this is not remedied they will drift to other more profitable and less labour-intensive crops such as biofuels.”
He said that cocoa farming was becoming less attractive to young people, which would lead to labour shortages and poor management of trees.
Poor production methods
He added that farmers were not investing in improving production leading to poorer yields.
“Farmers currently achieve a fraction of potential yields because of poor agronomy and pests and diseases.”
He said that new pests and diseases had the potential to devastate the industry as evidenced by the spread of witches’ broom to Bahia in the 1980s and cocoa pod borer to Papua New Guinea in the last decade.
Declining production areas
He added that the changing environment could seriously impact the number of production areas.
“Climate change models predict a loss of half of current West African cocoa growing areas by 2050.”
“In the past demand has been met by expanding production areas, but few suitable areas remain,” he said.
High demand exacerbates problem
Global chocolate consumption is rising by 2-3% annually, according to the University Of Sydney.
Guest warned that such high demand and a growing preference for high-cocoa dark chocolate was aggravating the problem.
However, Guest was adamant that the crisis can be avoided, and said the industry had a key part to play.
“In my opinion the crisis can be averted by improving the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa farmers so that they invest in sustainable production methods,” he said.
He called for action at all levels to improve the advice and support given to farmers, to improve the transparency of the cocoa marketing chain, and to increase investment in basic and applied research.
“Chocolate companies and private sector stakeholders have a major role to play in facilitating these changes,” he concluded.