The end of the world as we know it
Another crisis, and again due to the Indians and Chinese. Professor David Guest and Galit Segev, who has won a number of excellence awards including two bronze medals in the Callebaut Chocolate competitions in 2009 and 2011, gave a public lecture today at the University of Sydney putting forth a vision of catastrophe:
Dark, delicious and decadent, the rich flavour of chocolate has inspired passions, addictions and even literature for more than three thousand years. Cacao is produced from fruit of the tropical tree, Theobroma cacao, literally meaning ‘food of the Gods’. Not just appetising, chocolate also has health benefits – reducing blood pressure and enhancing psychological happiness.
Cacao is grown in West Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific – areas vulnerable to threats of climate change, political instability, pests and diseases. Rapidly increasing chocolate consumption in developing Asian economies is making chocolate manufacturers anxious about meeting demand.
To counter a chocolate catastrophe, Professor David Guest’s research supports the chocolate industry by improving the sustainability of smallholder cacao production. Professor Guest’s work with farmers in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Bougainville shows that good farm management increases yields, resulting in improved living standards, reduced rainforest clearing, political and social stability, and securing future supplies of chocolate.
The world has taken notice. The Asian Correspondent reports:
“Cacao is grown in areas vulnerable to climate change, political instability, pests and diseases,” Professor Guest said.
Threats to cacao production also include ageing plantations, poorly trained farmers and poorly managed trees, dependence on a narrow genetic base and crop substitution where cacao is replaced by maize because of the demand for bioethanol.
The chocolate crisis is exacerbated by the fact that global chocolate consumption is rising by two to three percent annually.
“Chocolate consumption trends are different around the globe. In Australia, Europe and North America total consumption – around 6kg of chocolate per capita per year – is stable, but the trend is to dark chocolates or to niche marketed gourmet chocolates. Consumption dropped slightly during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009,” said Professor Guest.
“In China, India, Eastern Europe and Brazil, however, per capita consumption rates are increasing rapidly, albeit from a relatively low base.
“One estimate is that global production will need to increase by one million tonnes per year by 2020 – from 3.6 million tonnes in 2009/2010 – to meet global demand.”
To counter a chocolate catastrophe, Professor Guest’s research supports the chocolate industry by improving the sustainability and profitability of smallholder cacao production.
He warns that global production of cacao, the raw ingredient in chocolate, must increase nearly a quarter by 2020 to keep up with demand from China and other rising economies.
However, cacao growing regions remain some of the most undeveloped and unstable parts of the world and farmers face significant challenges in bringing production up to speed.
DNA chips in:
Professor Guest … has worked with farmers to select better cacao genotypes, to teach improved methods of crop and soil management and find out what can be done to improve technical support given the constraints growers face.
Without education and access to modern methods, these growers face falling being unable to keep up with rising demand.
“One estimate is that global production will need to increase by one million tonnes per year by 2020 – from 3.6 million tonnes in 2009 and 2010 – to meet global demand,” the Daily Mail quoted Guest as telling The Register.
“While controlling disease is relatively straightforward in theory, changing farming practice to become more sustainable and rewarding is a much more complex challenge involving social, economic, political and environmental factors,” he added.