Chocolate: Worth its weight in gold?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Chocolate – we can't get enough of it. But cocoa farming can't keep up with our appetites, and in the future a single bar could cost us £7, warns Anthea Gerrie

Fancy a bit of chocolate? An afternoon Kit Kat with your cup of tea? A chunk of fruit and nut? Go on, you've earned it.

Except that in the future, chocoholics might have to work quite a bit harder to pay for their fix. The world could run out of affordable chocolate within 20 years as farmers abandon their crops in the global cocoa basket of West Africa, industry experts claim.

"Galaxy, Creme Eggs, every kind of £1 chocolate bar will be a thing of the past," warns London chocolatier Marc Demarquette, who believes a bar at £7, or its future equivalent, will be more like it. And Demarquette, who worked as an advisor for a recent BBC Panorama documentary on the troubled West African cocoa fields, is not alone. John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, has forecast that shortages in bulk production in Africa will have a devastating effect: "In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."

The reason for this unimaginable shortage – which has been presaged by the doubling of cocoa prices in six years to an all-time high over the past three decades – is simple.

Farmers in the countries that produce the bulk of cocoa bought by the multinationals who control the market have found the crop a bitter harvest. The minimal rewards they have historically received do not provide incentives for the time-consuming work of replanting as their trees die off – a task that usually means moving to a new area of canopied forest and waiting three to five years for a new crop to mature.

"It's hard to maintain production at high levels in a particular plot of land every time, because of pest problems that eat away at the yields and the farms need to be rejuvenated," explains Thomas Dietsch, research director of ecosystem services at the Earthwatch Organisation. "Although research into new varieties and better management methods could solve those problems, the other challenge is that cocoa is competing for agricultural space with other commodities like palm oil – which is increasingly in demand for biofuels."

Meanwhile, as the supply of the raw material diminishes, millions of new consumers in the developing world are becoming addicted to the sweet energy-fix at the end of the processing chain. "Chocolate consumption is increasing faster than cocoa production – and it's not sustainable," Tony Lass, chairman of the Cocoa Research Association, told the annual conference of Britain's Academy of Chocolate last month.

Despite price rises on the trading floor, precious little reaches the smallholders who make up 95 per cent of growers, according to Mr. Lass, a former Cadburys trader and ethical sourcing advisor who has co-authored a book on the cocoa industry.

"These smallholders earn just 80 cents a day," he says. "So there is no incentive to replant trees when they die off, and to wait up to five years for a new crop, and no younger generation around to do the replanting. The children of these African cocoa farmers, whose life expectancy is only 56, are heading for the cities rather than undertake backbreaking work for such a small reward." As harvests diminish on the Ivory Coast, by far the world's biggest cocoa producer, crops in Indonesia, the third largest producer, have been hit by a change in weather systems, forcing cocoa prices sky-high.

Demarquette, who makes chocolate for Fortnum's and has a shop in London's Fulham Road, adds that, to make matters worse, the soil in Africa's traditional cocoa fields is rapidly becoming depleted. "In Ghana and Ivory Coast the earth is dead where trees have already been harvested – there are no nutrients left in the soil," he claims. And some farmers in West Africa have turned to child labour to compensate for the manpower shortage.

"Production will have decreased within 20 years to the point where we won't see any more cheap bars in vending machines – unless they are made with carob instead of chocolate," he says. "It's because the growers in West Africa only see 2p for every £1 bar. Even if you double that, it's no incentive for the next generation – which rightly expects decent working conditions. Those young people are heading for the cities. They won't stay around just so schoolchildren and commuters can continue to get their quick fix."

The good news for consumers is that cocoa, which can only be grown in latitudes within 10 degrees of the equator, is also being produced in South America, the Caribbean and Asia.

However Demarquette says it looks doubtful that those areas will be able to satisfy increased demand, "given the speed with which consumption is growing, with new markets like India and China coming along behind and following Western tastes".

There is already an upward trend in retail prices for quality chocolate, he notes: "With growers of premium cocoa beans already getting up to 45p per bar to look after their crops properly and fund their future, chocolate will go back to being what it used to be – a rarefied treat."

Perhaps the world will be happy to live with that. Mintel figures released last month show that all the growth in the £3.6bn chocolate market is in the premium sector, which means chocoholics may well be prepared to dig ever deeper into their pockets for their fix.

"We are currently selling a 70g bar for £7 – and the price will go up, as there is ever more demand for properly cultivated beans," says Demarquette.

"Of course," he adds, "there is all the difference in the world betweendecent chocolate and confectionery that is so full of sugar and palm oilthat it doesn't deserve to be called chocolate at all."

Sara Jayne Stanes, chair of the UK Academy of Chocolate, believes foodies will save the chocolate industry from extinction by paying whatever it takes for the good stuff: "I do not believe we will run out of cocoa beans, as sustainability is something that affects us all," she says.

"Over the past 10-15 years, growing curiosity and interest in the fine-chocolate end of the market has created an understanding of how it is different from chocolate confectionery," she says. Consumers must appreciate that "fine chocolate, like fine wine, will cost considerably more, as cocoa farmers stop leaving the land in search of better-paid jobs in the cities. The result will be more careful cultivation of the crops, and a greater supply of fine cocoas."

A spokesman from Cadburys doesn't deny the shortage of cheaper cocoa, but suggests scarcity might be averted through Fair Trade initiatives.

"Together with other manufacturers and the wider cocoa industry, we have been working on a number of agricultural initiatives to both increase and improve yields," he says. "Our move into Fair Trade was a separate step, to both pay a better price to farmers, and to encourage the next generation of cocoa farmers to stay within the industry."

The crisis may well be averted in Ghana, Cadbury's supply heartland and the world's second largest producer, according to Divine Chocolate, a Ghanaian manufacturer that is 45 per cent owned by a cooperative of 45,000 cocoa farmers. "The Fair Trade system helps ensure that the value of farming is delivered directly to the farmers and their communities," says its managing director Sophi Tranchell.

"The best route for sustainability is for farmers to organise themselves into larger units, to be able to manage their own farming improvements through improved remuneration, and to put them in a position where they have more influence in the cocoa supply chain. Why else should they continue?" She believes Divine Chocolate has found the right recipe: "Fairtrade – and particularly the Divine ownership model – delivers sustainability into the hands of the farmers, not the hands of the global buyers."

But it is in the Ivory Coast, by far the world's largest source of cocoa, where the future of the crop is much more uncertain. "Fair Trade doesn't really exist here," says Ange Aboa, a reporter based in the country's largest city, Abidjan, who specialises in covering the industry. "Young people are moving away from cocoa into rubber, whose price is more stable. And on top of that we have cocoa diseases like swollen shoot and black pod, which have caused a 10 per cent drop in production."

The biggest hope, he says, is a Nestlé project to replant 10m trees over the next decade: "But these are only for the cooperatives with whom they work, and the replanting will make up for about a quarter of the trees which have been lost. Their goal is to buy only from the cooperatives in future, and not top up by buying from local exporters".

This should result in better quality beans, he says, but the question of whether there will be enough of them to continue to perpetuate the world view of chocolate as a cheap energy-fix is much more questionable.

"It's hard to imagine a world without a demand for chocolate, but whether it remains the low-cost snack food it is now may well change in time," says Earthwatch's Dietsch. "If the demand for biofuels pushes up the price of the oil-palm crop it may well supplant cocoa – unless measures are taken for those farmers who still grow it to remain in cocoa production."

But one cause for optimism, he says, is that "the cocoa industry is far ahead of other commodities, like coffee, in putting programmes in place that seek to ensure sustainable supplies".

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?