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Climate Change Could Make Chocolate A Luxury Item, Report Finds

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Chocolate lovers, embrace those chocoholic fixes now. A recent report from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture predicts it could become a luxury product if West Africa's temperatures rise thanks to climate change.

The world's $9 billion chocolate industry gets almost half of its cocoa from West African farmers in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), reports Thinkprogress.org.

According to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, if Ghana and the Ivory Coast experience a 2.3 Celsius degree jump in temperature by 2050, the climate won't be suitably cool enough to grow the crop.

This is a problem, given these farmers financially rely on cocoa as their sole crop. "Many of these farmers use their cocoa trees like ATM machines," said CIAT's Dr. Peter Laderach, the report's lead author, in a press statement. "They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life."

The research, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, used the combined results of 19 climate models to assess the impact of climate change on cocoa production.

As early as 2030, farmers will begin to see an impact on the crop, notes Scientific American.

So why not just move the crops? Treehugger.com explains that might not be so simple:

The report's findings show that the ideal conditions for cocoa-growing will shift to higher altitudes -- but most of West Africa is relatively flat, so there is not a lot of land at higher elevation to move to. Even where there is higher land, establishing new cocoa-producing areas could trigger the clearing of forests and important habitats for flora and fauna. Which means, yes, exacerbating climate change even further.

According to responsiblecocoa.com, cocoa comes from the incredibly fragile cacao tree, which is "vulnerable to pests and disease: each year, farmers can lose anywhere from 30 percent to nearly their entire cocoa crop." For instance, TIME points out Brazil used to be one of the leading cocoa suppliers in the world until a fungus wiped out the plant.

To adapt to the changes, the report calls for farmers to invest in shading to protect trees from the rising temperatures. But farmers will also have to branch out from cocoa and diversify with crops that can sustain hotter temperatures. But fair trade chocolate suppliers also take the position that switching to a high quality strategy instead of mass production of cocoa might be a better idea. Rodney North, spokesman for Equal Exchange, a provider of fair trade chocolate, told Scientific American, "You want to be growing the high-quality stuff."

This isn't the first time studies have found an export threatened by global warming. Other products reportedly affected by climate change include French wine, and Italian pasta.

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