El Niño, coupled with climate change, is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s cocoa production, which accounts for 70% of the global supply. Erratic rainfall patterns and increased temperatures in West Africa have caused moisture stress and inhibited the growth of cocoa flowers and pods. These climatic shifts also exacerbated the spread of pests and diseases, making it challenging for farmers to maintain optimal cocoa yields. The situation is impacting not just the chocolate industry but also local and global economies.
Black Pod Disease and Swollen Shoot Virus:
Heavy rains have led to the spread of black pod disease, a fungal infection that rots cocoa pods. Black pod disease in cocoa is primarily caused by the fungus Phytophthora spp., which thrives in humid and warm conditions. The disease manifests as dark, water-soaked lesions on the pods, eventually leading to rotting. This has jeopardised both the quality and quantity of cocoa crops, raising concerns about a third consecutive year of deficit for the 2023/24 season.
In addition to black pod disease, the region is grappling with the swollen shoot virus, transmitted by mealybugs, which are sap-sucking insects. Symptoms include swollen shoots, leaf distortion, and vein clearing. In severe cases, it can lead to dieback of branches and ultimately, the death of the tree. This virus has afflicted approximately 20% of Ivory Coast’s cocoa crop this season.
The cocoa crisis is not just a West African issue; it’s a global concern. The ratio of stock to consumption is anticipated to drop to 30%, marking the lowest point since 1985. Experts in the field are forecasting a defecit of 279,000 metric tons in the global cocoa market for the 2023/24 season.
Chocolate consumption has surged post-pandemic, with an approximate 10% increase in global chocolate confectionery sales. Supply limitations have resulted in a spike in cocoa prices, which have hit a 12-year peak as of August 29, 2023. This price escalation is also impacting specialty chocolates, especially dark chocolate, which has a higher content of cocoa solids.
Impact on Other Crops:
El Niño’s impact on global crop production is a growing concern for global food security. From staple foods like rice, sugar and palm oil to luxuries like wine and chocolate, the phenomenon is disrupting agricultural output worldwide. This not only threatens food security but also has the potential to inflate global food prices, affecting economies and households alike.