The Truth about Chocolate Going Extinct

The Truth about Chocolate Going Extinct

Published by Chocolatier Jason Vishnefske on 10th Oct 2018

Environmental issues could drive Cacao Extinction, don’t fret there is a solution: Buy Eco Safe Chocolate

Tony Lass, director of Fox Consultancy, and head of Cadbury’s global chocolate supplies expressed his concern at Chocoa 2018 regarding the possibility of extinction of a wild variety of cacao. This variety of cacao is an original type  from South America. 

Through cross pollination, new cacao varieties have been created that are resistant to many diseases and climate change. The original cacao fruit variety is native to Latin America and is a prized variety because of the delicate nature and unique flavor profile. Gourmet chocolate makers seek this original variety of cacao in making dark chocolate. Santa Barbara Chocolate actively seeks the unique cacao fruit varieties in making organic chocolate.

According to Lass, forests and the micro climates at the headwaters of the Amazon River in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru contribute to the world’s richest and most diverse species of cacao. With urbanization expanding, much of this unique environment and micro climate of cacao is experiencing destruction. Cultivating rare chocolate varieties from these areas is necessary to develop the market and brand recognition flavor of premium cocoa products that will drive demand and therefore protection as a valuable resource. Chocolate brands need to sell high quality chocolates made from these rare varieties of the original cacao so customers can experience the true magic of rainforest chocolate which will foster stewardship of the environment where this cacao is grown.

Cacao extinction due to urbanization and climate change is unsettling for chocolate makers all around the world because of supply. Expansion in hydroelectricity and mining programs that cut the rainforests are seen as reasons behind cocoa tree destruction today while climate change is seen as the long term reason behind shortening supply.

The alarming rate at which the various species of unique cocoa trees are disappearing has caused organizations like Cocoa Research Center (CRC) to launch several sample collection expeditions to salvage species. Certain crops have been saved through efforts centered in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Farmers are working to save chocolate from extinction by cultivating original heirloom cocoa trees on small plot farms. Opting to grow cacao in harmony with the rainforest is critical to long term eco systems as well as the preservation of unique varieties. Shade growing cocoa is a solution that allows the trees to better weather the changes in climate that will affect growing regions.

Dark Chocolate Cocoa Diversity:

Education efforts and eco farming techniques along with cross pollination of the cacao varietals with is the best way to save chocolate from extinction. Additionally, small chocolate shops can lead the way in developing demand for unique cacao varieties ( starting a chocolate business article) by offering gourmet chocolate. Eco consumers seek dark chocolate that promotes environmentally aware cocoa farming. Chocolate brands can devote attention to ensuring long term survival of exotic cacao varieties as demand and awareness grows.

Cocoa Preservation:

A number of measures have been taken to preserve the endangered varieties of cacao. A Global Seed Vault, created by the non-profit organization called The Crop Trust is located in a mountain on a remote island of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. The Seed Vault has been fruitful in preserving various varieties of crops. This vault, located between mainland Norway and the North Pole, helps preserve around 890,886 seed samples. The original cocoa seed types are stored here.

Unexplored Cacao Growing:

So far, the cacao commonly grown has been derived from 12 types found in the Amazon region. According to Lass, for the past 80 years, this very small number of varieties have been botanically cross bred for meeting chocolate needs worldwide and these varieties can even be found in places like Africa. Harsh climate conditions, pests and potential cocoa plant diseases threaten the diversity. As climate change becomes significant, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill reducing the possibility of large scale production. The IPCC reported that Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana’s optimal altitude for cultivation is expected to rise from 350–800 feet above sea level (100–250 meters) to 1,500–1,600 feet above sea level (450–500 meters).

The maps below show suitability for cocoa tree cultivation presently (left) and projected by the year 2050 (right). The area is reduced in both African nations Ivory Coast and Ghana by the year 2050. Image adapted from Läderach et al. 2013.


As the climate gets hotter, cocoa trees will start disappearing unless there are stewards and companies that care. According to Express News, the world will see a chocolate shortage by the year 2050 as a direct result of urbanization and climate change. This potential disaster has led experts to believe that by 2050 the cocoa plant will be difficult to grow with a smaller range to grow it – particularly in the Ivory Coast and Ghana where more than 50 per cent of the world’s raw cacao is grown.

Dark Chocolate at its Best:

While there is a decline in cocoa resources, many companies like Santa Barbara Chocolate are dedicating efforts in sustainability with the long term goal of preserving resources and minimizing climate impact as much as possible. We are hopeful that with a proactive approach we can increase the number of cacao trees in natural habitats. With rainforest shade farming we can help sustain the environment where cacao is grown. Furthermore as a buyer of chocolate and cacao, being aware to seek eco safe cacao and cocoa products as a vital ingredient can ensure chocolate for future generations. Together we can minimize the possibility of cacao extinction and chocolate shortages.