The World Chocolate Crisis is real. Please note the capitalization, to emphasize the serious nature of this global resource shortage. How real?
Back in 2010, Ghana sold more than $1.6 billion US worth of cocoa beans, according to the Forum for Agricultural Risk Management in Development.
One farmer from the Ivory Coast told Reuters back in March (2017): “It’s a drought here. The trees are not doing well and there is practically no fruit on the plantations.”
The other concern, disease, has long been a risk for cocoa farmers. Once a pest or disease latches onto a specific breed of cocoa tree, an entire farming region can be in danger. In 1970, a fungus so thoroughly devastated the cocoa farming industry in Costa Rica that it has yet to recover. Source
‘Unlike other tree crops that have benefited from the development of modern, high yielding cultivars and crop management techniques to realise their genetic potential, more than 90 per cent of the global cocoa crop is produced by smallholders on subsistence farms with unimproved planting material,’ said Doug Hawkins, from Hardman Agribusiness. ‘All the indicators are that we could be looking at a chocolate deficit of 100,000 tonnes a year in the next few years.’ Source
A study by the Centre for Tropical Agriculture claims that if temperatures continue to rise, the world’s two main producers – Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire which together produce 60% of the world’s cocoa – would become unsuitable for cacao plants if rainfall decreases and temperatures rise by just 1.2 degrees Celsius by 2030.
Cacao trees need very specific conditions with high humidity and abundant rain. There is also a maturing process in some varieties of between 5-7 years, meaning crop disease is also not quickly recovered from. While some areas like Ghana have become too dry and others, like Costa Rica, have battled fungal disease, there has quietly been a chocolate super hero at work at Mae Jo University, about 10 minutes from our home here in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
Associate Professor Dr. Sanh La-Ongsri has dedicated much of his career to breed a new cacao strain adapted to the local Northern Thai climate. The variety, officially known as IM1 Coco Hohm Hybrid (Hohm means fragrant in Thai) has been bred from Peruvian and Filipino strains to suit local conditions.
Southern Thailand too, has a cacao variety called Trintario which is what the industry calls a bulk bean – sold to chocolate factories for blending and coco butter production and grown primarily for bulk and yield rather than specific taste.
The Coco Hohm Chiang Mai strain is the real boutique strain and is already being commercially produced.
So Thailand, which gave up its opium fields to become a significant player in the world’s boutique coffee market in just 20 short years, is poised to tackle the global chocolate shortage head on.
This week, our acquaintance here in Chiang Mai, Mr Ori Garres, is on a cacao tree delivery mission in Chaiyaphum. Soil testing in the Chaiyaphum area around Petchabun is proving PERFECT for the Trintario variety. His meter tall trees will be fruiting in 2-3 years and there is already a co-operative in place to buy the nibs from the farmers.
Why should the farmers change to cacao? For a corn farmer currently getting 6 baht/kilo and needing to replant every year and BURN a lot of corn waste, the 30 baht a kilo on offer for cacao nibs, the fact that trees can survive for up to 70 years, the global market demand and the co-operative for buying their yield is very attractive offer.
Raw organic cacao is in high demand as a health food – lots more to tell you about that which I’m saving for a separate post. Follow me to make sure you don’t miss it!
My personal interest in cacao, apart from a distinct, personal love of fine, bitter-sweet, organic, dark chocolate? Our indigenous Karen community will be planting cacao and raising it organically this next season – an investment in their long term community future. And my business Pure Thai Natural Co Ltd has a new organic cacao Face Masque, Face Scrub and Body Scrub about to be unveiled in the next 2 weeks. Yay – exciting!
Somehow, it feels GOOD to me that the old-paradigm world chocolate market is moving away from its slave-colonial-imperialist origins and reconnecting with indigenous communities, fair trade, health and sustainability. Somewhere, out in the cosmic ether, I can feel Ixcacao, the Mayan Chocolate Goddess, gently nodding in agreement.