Chocolate's Bitter Truth: Climate Change & Deforestation in the Global Cocoa Industry

February 2, 2024

This looming global challenge is set to drastically shrink cacao-growing regions in the coming years. As cocoa demand outpaces sustainable supply, the industry faces a dire predicament that could lead to the loss of indigenous cacao varieties.

The cocoa belt, stretching twenty degrees north and south of the Equator, encompasses countries such as Ecuador, Cameroon, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Honduras, and parts of West Africa and Southeast Asia, all of which are currently experiencing the severe impacts of climate change. 

This looming global challenge is set to drastically shrink cacao-growing regions in the coming years. As cocoa demand outpaces sustainable supply, the industry faces a dire predicament that could lead to the loss of indigenous cacao varieties. Presently, pathogens and climate change put nearly half of the cocoa supply in jeopardy. Moreover, the production of cocoa is entangled with deforestation and the exploitation of child labor, intensifying the urgency for sustainable practices.

The Consequences of Cocoa-Driven Deforestation

As the global demand for cocoa continues to increase, it brings to the forefront a significant environmental challenge – deforestation. The majority of the environmental impact associated with cocoa arises from land-use changes, predominantly the clearing of forests to make way for cultivation. Côte d'Ivoire, the leading global supplier of cocoa beans with an annual production of 2.1 million metric tons, has seen a catastrophic loss of 90% of its rainforests since 1960s. This practice not only contributes to the loss of vital forest ecosystems but also exacerbates the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Historically, cacao cultivation thrived as part of a diverse ecosystem, resembling an orchard brimming with a variety of cacao strains intermingled with other plant species. This rich biodiversity was not just a characteristic of these systems but a cornerstone of their health. The contemporary cacao cultivation is largely characterized by extensive monocultures. The widespread adoption of hybrid strains like CCN 51, while resistant and highly productive, presents a significant risk to biodiversity. These hybrids often eclipse native cacao strains, diminishing the genetic diversity essential for a resilient ecosystem. Additionally, cacao farming demands a substantial water footprint. 

This paradigm shift in cultivation practices impacts more than just the environment; it alters the very essence of the chocolate that reaches our plates. The consequences of these changes, evident in both land use patterns and water consumption, highlight the urgent need for the chocolate industry to embrace sustainable production methods. Compounding this issue is the carbon footprint of cacao farming. Based on inoqo's proprietary Impact Database, in extreme cases, the production of just 1 kg of cacao beans can emit as much as 145 kg of CO2e in countries with high deforestation but low yield. Meanwhile, in other regions, emissions at the farm level can be as low as 0.9 kg of CO2e.

Addressing the Environmental Challenges in Cocoa Production

For those passionate about exploring the captivating world of food and beverage sustainability, and especially for those seeking  a comprehensive of Food Product Life Cycle Assessment we have a special opportunity. 

Join us on February 7th for our  webinar "Assessing the Environmental Impact of a Cacao Drink through all LCA Stages" . This session will guide you through a step by step approach to a LCA use case. Get ready for an in depth exploration of  the Life Cycle of a cacao drink offering invaluable insights for those interested in sustainable practices. Spots are limited, register here.

But, here are also some actionable steps both consumers and producers can take to mitigate these effects:

One of the main concerns is that traditional cocoa farming practices, especially monoculture, contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions due to extensive land use changes. Transitioning to agroforestry offers a more eco-friendly approach, although it may result in lower, slower yields and higher costs for buyers.

Exploring Cocoa/Chocolate Alternatives:

- Molecular Chocolate: Utilizes byproducts from other food processes to mimic chocolate's flavor and texture.

- Cultured Chocolate: Involves lab-grown cocoa beans and cocoa butter, presenting an innovative approach to chocolate production.

- Carob: Serves as a natural, caffeine-free alternative to chocolate, derived from the edible pods of the carob tree, catering especially to those with allergies or sensitivities to chocolate or caffeine.

Let's Collaborate on Your Scope 3 Emission Reduction!

Every choice made by individuals in the food chain, whether big or small, has an impact on the climate. These collective choices contribute to achieving zero emissions in the agriculture, food, and land use sectors. At inoqo, we conduct product impact assessments for grocery retailers, F&B brands and other food companies, calculating the climate, biodiversity, and social impact of all your food and beverage products. Reach out to us at to explore how we can guide your business towards a low-impact future.

February 2, 2024

by Laura

from inoqo

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