Maryam Henein, co-director of the colony collapse documentary The Vanishing of the Bees, now investigates some worrying developments that–gasp–threaten chocolate as we know and love it, at her Honey Colony blog:
Back in the Mayan age, around 1100 BCE, around the Upper Amazon River Basin, cacao was recognized as a “super” food, traded as a precious currency with a value on par with gold and jewels. By the 17th century, the Spanish added sugar (cane) to sweeten it, and the rest is history. As other European countries clamored to get in on the action and started exporting cacao trees to their colonies, Africa soon became the world’s most prominent grower of cacao, even though it’s not native to that continent.[continues at the Honey Colony blog]
The Cacao Genome
Today, cacao has devolved into a byproduct of itself. Instead of being viewed as the sacred fruit that it is, with all its nutritional benefits, cacao is largely seen as a candy bar, a mid-day fix, loaded with sugar, milk, and other substandard ingredients.
“Most people think of chocolate as a commodity and not a food,” says Jim Eber, co-author of Raising The Bar: The Future Of Fine Chocolate. “And the reason goes beyond process and back to a lack of connectivity between consumer and farmer and the work that goes into producing a great bean before a manufacturer can even produce great chocolate.”
Yet, demand continues to soar, in part because more and more unconventional markets (think China and India) are joining the chocolate craze. Currently, the global chocolate confectionery market is worth an astounding $102.3 billion, according to Euromonitor International. In 2012, the head of the U.K. Food and Drink Federation estimated that in about seven years, we’ll need another million tons of cacao beans in order fulfill consumer desire. That’s the equivalent of another Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cacao producer.
Supply just can’t keep up with demand for long. Companies like Mars, Hershey, and Nestlé — and even the International Cocoa Organization, which “constantly follows and analyzes” the world of cacao — have also expressed concern about the sustainability of the cacao supply. Big Agriculture, climate change, crop rotation, deforestation, cacao’s susceptibility to disease, child labor, and dollar signs are just some of the plagues attacking cacao. Still, there is hope for this orphan crop. (The term “orphan” is usually used to describe harvests that are neglected or underutilized.)
Chocophiles, scientists, and “Big Chocolate” believe that the chocolate center to this Tootsie Pop of impending economic disaster is the sequencing of the cacao genome…