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Global chocolate crisis looms

Expert warns of 'instability in cacao growing areas'

By Simon Sharwood, 17 Apr 2012

The world's chocolate supply is at risk, according to Professor David Guest of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment.

Professor Guest will tomorrow deliver a talk titled The Chocolate Crisis in which he will warn that "We're in a situation where chocolate manufacturers are anxious about meeting demand, as there's rapidly increasing chocolate consumption in developing economies, paired with instability in cacao growing areas.”

Guest and his colleagues have travelled to cacao-growing regions in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Bougainville to promote sustainable farming practices for the precious bean.

"We work with farmers to select better genotypes of cacao, to demonstrate improved crop and soil management, to understand the constraints they face and what can be done to improve technical support," Professor Guest said.

“We've found it's really effective to explain to farmers that disease is caused by microorganisms similar to those that cause human disease. Showing farmers how the pathogens survive and spread helps their understanding and leads them to realise that they can reduce disease with improved management. Otherwise cacao farmers tend to blame nebulous factors like climate change or more virulent pathogen strains, which they feel powerless to do anything about."

Teaching farmers about these issues, and other farming methods that increase yields, are necessary to help producers keep up with rising global demand for delicious choccy treats.

"One estimate is that global production will need to increase by one million tonnes per year by 2020 - from 3.6 million tonnes in 2009/2010 - to meet global demand," Professor Guest said, with increased Chinese interest in chocolate one reason for the rise.

If that demand is to be met, Professor Guest says farmers need to act now.

"While controlling disease is relatively straightforward in theory, changing farming practice to become more sustainable and rewarding is a much more complex challenge involving social, economic, political and environmental factors," Professor Guest said.

It goes without saying that all Register readers wish Professor Guest and his colleagues every success in his work. &reg