White, milk, dark, and doomed – according to experts, Earth is in danger of losing one of its favourite sweet tooth satisfiers to warmer temperatures and dryer weather conditions. Scientists predict chocolate could become impossible to produce by 2050 as cacao plants succumb to the devastating effects of climate change.
Cacao, like coffee plants and wine grapes, are notoriously delicate trees to grow. They thrive only in a region about 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and require rainforest-like conditions described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind.”
Because of its dependence on such a limited area of land and its extreme reactiveness to small shifts in climate, cacao is particularly vulnerable to global warming. Over half of the world’s chocolate now comes from just two countries in West Africa – Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – and by 2050, rising temperatures will shrink today’s chocolate-growing regions even further.
Fortunately for chocoholics, a rescue mission has commenced.
Mars, the $35 billion corporation behind brands like Snickers and M&Ms, has pledged $1 billion as part of an effort called “Sustainability in a Generation”, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and supply chain by more than 60% by 2050.
The company has also joined forces with researchers at the University of California–Berkeley to work towards a solution. The Berkeley team is experimenting with using CRISPR gene-editing technology to manipulate the DNA of cacao plants, developing hardier seedlings that won’t wilt or rot as their environment becomes increasingly inhospitable.
“We’re trying to go all in here,” Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider. “There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don’t think we’re getting there fast enough collectively.”