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West Africa too hot for cocoa by 2050

Higher temperatures mean cocoa trees will struggle to get enough water during the growing season (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Higher temperatures mean cocoa trees will struggle to get enough water during the growing season
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

An expected temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius by 2050 will leave many areas in West Africa unable to grow cocoa, research by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has revealed. In Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, where more than half of the world's chocolate is produced, cocoa provides a critical source of income for hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers.

"Already we're seeing the effects of rising temperatures on cocoa crops currently produced in marginal areas, and with climate change these areas are certain to spread," says CIAT's Dr Peter Laderach, lead author of the report. "At a time when global demand for chocolate is rising fast, particularly in China, there is already upward pressure on prices. It's not inconceivable that this, combined with the impact of climate change, could cause chocolate prices to increase sharply."

With rising temperatures, ideal growing areas will gradually shift to higher altitudes. "The problem is that much of West Africa is relatively flat and there is no 'uphill'. This is a major cause of the potentially drastic decreases in cocoa suitability in the region," Laderach adds. Shifting cultivation is also likely to trigger deforestation as farmers move production to cooler areas. "For these reasons it is essential that we focus on increasing the resilience of existing production systems as much as possible."

In addition to using shade trees, which many smallholder farmers already use, the report recommends growing alternative cash and food crops in case one crop fails. The report also calls for new cocoa varieties that will tolerate higher temperatures, renewed research into suitable irrigation systems and the development of national policies to help farmers adapt. "The report quantifies the risks, and pinpoints particularly vulnerable areas in good time for effective action to be taken," Laderach concludes. "Producers in affected areas will be protected if they are prepared to change, and if they have the knowledge, tools and institutional support to help them adapt."

* The research was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Date published: September 2011


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