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Save the chocolate and the planet

Alan Miller's picture

With Durban climate change meetings around the corner, discussion on the long-term risks to Africa and the severity of recent extreme events has understandably increased – for example, hot, dry weather that could make farming more challenging for large parts of Africa.

These changes will almost certainly affect all of us at least indirectly, as populations are forced to migrate, disaster relief costs escalate, and increased uncertainty lowers market returns and economic growth.

But it may help to appreciate the true meaning of the expected changes from climate change to consider some of the less dramatic – but far reaching – smaller impacts that will affect all of us in a myriad of ways in our daily lives. A good example is recent predictions of climate impacts on some of our favorite foods – not necessarily life shattering, but a big part of our daily rituals and pleasure in life. Consider three in particular: coffee, chocolate, and wine. The first two are particularly important agricultural exports for Africa.

Starbucks recently announced concerns about the future of its supply chain due to the impacts of climate change. Short-term impacts are already evident due to floods in key coffee growing nations such as Columbia. The Union of Concerned Scientists observes that coffee growing is tied to specific locations such that even small changes in temperature can affect production and increase exposure to pests and disease.

According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), cocoa production in the prime growing areas in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (together over 50 percent of world production) is also at risk due to climate change. Based on detailed climate modeling, “the suitability within the current cocoa-growing areas will decrease seriously by 2050.”

Similar stories are emerging with respect to the impact of climate changes on wine production in France and California. These examples point to the simple fact that we live in a world of economic activities and lifestyles closely tied to expectations that the climate of the future will look much like that of the recent past.

For farmers in these countries, this has serious implications as these crops are tied to their livelihoods. Managing cocoa price volatility has become a development issue and the focus of a World Bank training program in West Africa. In Ghana, the World Bank is conducting a supply chain risk assessment that includes looking at environmental risks. In Papua New Guinea, there is work on increasing the sustainability of the coffee and cocoa industries.

Our lives – including such fundamental matters as what we eat – will be changed irrevocably in ways we have only begun to understand. Some coverage of these developments has unfortunately treated news of coffee and chocolate price rises as cause for humor – with comments about a little less caffeine being a good thing, as an example. 

While the tenor of these reports trivializes a very serious issue, they may at least help to highlight how even affluent consumers in the industrialized countries are already beginning to see the affects of climate change. Most of us need this to understand a seemingly arcane, distant, and complex problem. But the media coverage has so far failed to address the larger message – changes big enough to ruin carefully managed, high value commodities like coffee, chocolate and wine will have much larger consequences for bulk commodities, the unmanaged ecosystem, and the way we live and work. To save the chocolate, we need to save the planet!

 

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