A world without chocolate?



Oscar Abello

Villanova’s supply of fair-trade chocolate begins on the tiny cocoa farms of Ghana, a small nation in Western Africa just north of the equator. Ninety-nine percent of Ghana’s cocoa farms are between two and three hectares – about the size of three football fields. Farmers typically intercrop cocoa with other goods such as corn, spices or plantains to help provide shade for young cocoa trees and food for the farmer’s family.

Harvesting is labor-intensive; pods are cut, split open and pulp removed by hand, because no machines have been developed that can handle all these tasks without damaging too many of the fragile cocoa beans inside the pods.

Afterward, the beans ferment surrounded by pulp while wrapped in leaves for about a week and then lay out in the sun for another five to 12 days to dry.

Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from Western Africa, according to the World Cocoa Foundation, and there are between five and six million cocoa farms in the world, supporting 40 to 50 million people. Cocoa is nearly impossible to grow outside the tropics, making it a major export for the large number of developing economies in that region of the globe. The annual market value of cocoa is $5.1 billion.

At the same time, the National Center for Atmospheric Research says in the past three decades the percentage of Earth’s surface affected by drought has doubled, threatening the livelihood of the 70 percent of the world’s poor who rely on agriculture for income – growing and selling crops such as cocoa. Due to global warming, they are now losing land on which to work, and rising average annual temperatures threaten to lower crop yields.

The threat global warming poses to the livelihood of the poor and the economic development of impoverished nations is so grave that this year the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore Jr.

In three of the past four years, including this year, the Committee has looked beyond efforts dealing directly with violent conflict and instead recognized efforts to eliminate the root cause of conflict – often, the scarcity of resources. Last year’s co-laureates Muhammad Yanus and the Grameen Bank were recognized for their efforts to lift people out of poverty via microfinancing. Three years ago, the committee awarded Wangari Maathai for her work helping poor African farmers by promoting ecologically sustainable agriculture.

This year’s award recognizes advocates of global warming, a man-made phenomenon that threatens to destabilize nations such as Ghana and other developing economies whose livelihood depend on agricultural exports. Increasing scarcity of resources has usually been a major precursor to violent conflict. According to Amnesty International, as per capita income is halved, the odds that a country is in civil war doubles.

The stakes are higher still. Stopping global warming has the indirect consequence of helping American workers, whose jobs are increasingly vulnerable to offshoring.

As global warming takes away the livelihood of those 40 or 50 million people that depend on growing and selling cocoa, those families will have to find work elsewhere. Typically, they will find it in other sectors such as manufacturing or services, placing them in direct competition for the same jobs currently held by many Americans.

What goes around comes around. Not only does collapsing agriculture threaten to incite violent conflict in developing economies, but it also means accelerated competition for labor markets around the world, leaving many developed-economy workers in limbo as well.

If we reap what we sow, it might be time to start considering how global warming will affect our harvest, because we might just find ourselves in a world without chocolate. That is cause for war.


Oscar Abello is a senior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].