Will there be Chocolate?
We hear much about the fortunes of corn, wheat and rice, and their various insect competitors for our crop. But what about something even more important for civilization–the cacao tree, source of cocoa and chocolate. In twenty years, will cocoa be rare?
Cocoa production involves one of the most complex fermentations of any food. First the pulp surrounding the beans must be fermented by yeast, generating alcohol; then lactic acid bacteria convert the alcohol to lactate, and acetic acid bacteria oxidize to CO2. And hundreds of other bacteria participate to an extent more or less understood. No laboratory or factory can reproduce the process exactly; it happens beneath a mound of leaves in the rainforest, where indigenous workers turn the pulp, aerate and dry it, ultimately shipping to Western candy makers.
And the genetically inbred cacao plant is a terribly finicky tree, requiring “helper trees,” and subject to an inordinate number of pests with names like witch’s broom and frosty pod rot. Furthermore, the crops worldwide are losing out to drought, deforestation, and global warming.
What’s to be done? Even the Gates Foundation has partnered with Hershey, Kraft and Starbucks to fund the Cocoa Livelihoods Program to sustain the productivity of cacao farmers in West and Central African countries.