Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Endangered Chocolate

As I’m sure all of you know, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. In preparation for this holiday, Americans buy 58 million pounds of chocolate! And that is only a small fraction of the 3 billion pounds of chocolate per year that we consume. However, with current agricultural practices, demand will likely be greater than the supply in a few decades.

Chocolate is produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree, which is cultivated on farms in Africa, Oceania, and South America. Cacao is almost always grown as a monoculture, or a single crop grown over a wide area. This is a problem, because monocultures are highly susceptible to quick-spreading diseases. Since they are grown in larger fields, it gives pests and weeds a larger target to invade. Also, it means that farmers have to clear huge portions of old-growth forests to make room for their crops.

To save the cacao crops, more sustainable agriculture practices must be implemented. The best solution would be to grow it in a way that is similar to its natural environment: smaller plots, with various other crops scattered between them. Ecological stability results in a higher crop yield, and a higher crop yield means more chocolate per mile of farmland, ensuring that Valentine’s Days will be sweet for years to come.

Posted by Erica Fitzpatrick (1)


  1. I find the cacao bean always interesting to read about. Agriculture companies that produce the bean should stop and think about the future. Changing the growing fields so that it is a more natural environment and not just fields of the same plant is a great idea. That way, we don't have to worry about chocolate becoming limited or even extinct in the future.

  2. Chocolate, coffee, tea - all these products make such a huge impact on our environment. I think it is good to offer solutions to how to improve the farming of these crops but we need to get at why humans farm in such an unsustainable way in the first place. The answer, I believe, lays in the market demands for these products (and cereals as well). We as consumers want what we want cheap. So, they need to produce a lot of it and quickly. Which leads to usage of pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers and poor labor conditions. It is an unfortunate and serious issue that is not highlighted enough in our media.

    Posted by William Mohn

  3. Why is it that growing crops in between the cacao plants would be beneficial? I understand crop rotation, that certain plants will deplete the soil of certain nutrients, so a different plant will be brought in as it does not use the same nutrients or at least the same amount. But wouldn't other crops consume nutrients vital to the cacao plant if they are there at the same time?

    Posted by Michael Thomas

  4. I think growing cacao plants in their own natural environment is a great idea yet one I do not believe will ever take place. This world is way too focused on money, producing products in the fast, most efficient ways worrying about the quantity not the quality. It is sad that this world is completley based on money and I do not see that changing anytime soon.

  5. Another thing that should be taken into consideration is how creating such large crops can adversely affect the rest of the ecosystem. By planting so many cacao plants, we could be smothering the natural diversity of the area. It would be a shame to destroy a habitat like that just for our own cravings for chocolate.

    Rhys Ursuliak

  6. Michael Thomas, you are correct that other crops could deplete soil nutrients, and that would certainly need to be taken into consideration when deciding which crops to plant. However, the main reason that plants would have to be grown in between cacao is to minimize the monoculture effect. Right now, it is extremely easy for diseases and pests to move from one tree to another, because there is nothing blocking their access to new hosts. Many of the trees become so infected that they cannot produce cacao beans. Also, taking Rhys Ursuliak’s comment into consideration, leaving patches of forest between cacao fields could preserve some of the plants that are native to the area.

    Erica Fitzpatrick

  7. Great post idea. I don't think any of us would like to see chocolate disappear form the planet.The world would just not be the same. But that being said chocolate we can live without, the old-growth forests we can't. Once you cut it all down, it's lost. It becomes new growth, and the environment is changed for good. New agriculture methods need to be implemented quick.

    posted by Dorian Pillari

  8. The chocolate issue and the price of chocolate exceeding the price of gold has been circulating in the news for a few years now, but what's not addressed on your local news channel is why. The why maybe why chocolate production is still being threatened. Yet, with all the hype, chocolate prices seem to have remained pretty constant.

    Superficially, it seems easier to change chocolate production and consumption with more education than it is to change our gasoline consumption patterns to protect the environment.

    Karen-Maria Melendez