Trick or Treat? Climate Change and Chocolate

chocolate box.jpgBy Zoë Spanbroek, Rainforest Alliance Intern

Here in the US, where the Rainforest Alliance headquarters is located, 95% of people who will be celebrating Halloween this year plan on purchasing candy, spending a projected $2.7 billion according to the National Retail Federation. Those sugary, chocolate-y favorites are more than just fun festivities; they are significant commodities.

With so much buying power behind these treats, especially around holidays, it is no wonder that the US is the biggest importer of cocoa beans and the second-biggest exporter of chocolate candy While this time of year offers plenty of sugar rushes, it also offers a chance to think about where our favorite chocolate treats come from, how climate change affects cocoa, and what we can do to make a difference.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa beans of the cacao tree, and from this bean arises a multi-billion-dollar industry, with 90% of the world’s cocoa produced by smallholder farmers who possess less than five acres/two hectares of land. Rainforest Alliance certification currently encompasses over 240,000 cocoa farms, totaling 2,450,000 acres of cropland in 15 countries. While certification helps farmers make positive strides towards sustainable production, climate change is still a formidable threat. Droughts, floods, rising temperatures, and changing growing seasons now jeopardize the viability of these farmers and their product and, ultimately, the chocolate we all love.

To combat these challenges, Rainforest Alliance is actively working with smallholder cocoa farmers to develop climate-smart agriculture techniques. Many of the strategies—water conservation, composting, planting shade trees, using natural pest/disease control, and planting other crops alongside cocoa—are proving to be both realistic and effective for many smallholders in geographies as diverse as Ghana and Indonesia.

Making progress on the production end of cocoa is only one piece of the puzzle. Consumer behavior is another, and numerous research studies have found over 80% of consumers would purchase a product because that company advocated for an issue—such as climate change—that they care about. Companies that offer sustainably sourced Rainforest Alliance Certified™ chocolate can be found on the “Find Certified Products” page of the Rainforest Alliance website, or consumers can simply Follow the Frog and look for the green frog seal when shopping.

From the angle of climate change, ‘Trick-or-Treating’ takes on a whole new meaning. The ‘trick’ behind cocoa production is addressing cocoa’s vulnerability to climate change by working with farmers to build resilient agricultural strategies. The ‘treat’ behind cocoa production, for consumers, seems obvious: enjoying the final, colorfully-wrapped product. Yet a deeper, longer-lasting treat exists in knowing that one’s purchasing choices can make a difference for the planet and for the farmers, their families, and communities.

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