“If this ship sinks, there won’t be any chocolate in Europe” – To close the European Cocoa Forum held on 15 and 16 September 2016 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the European Cocoa Association invited the leaders of the European chocolate industry to have dinner on a cruise. As we left the harbor, the ship was suddenly more exposed to the sea and some started to fear for the future of the chocolate supply.
Nature could indeed sink cocoa production. Yet, the cause will not be bad weather but climate change if the sector doesn’t take action. Usually there is no need to explain the difference between “unusual” or “bad” weather and climate change at conferences. But this one was different: it hosted industry leaders, traders, warehouse companies, logistics companies, and bankers. This was the entirety of the supply chain between West-African producers and European consumers. These people deal with risks to their businesses on a daily basis. In conversations before the panel discussion on climate change and adaptation, I realized that they needed to be pointed out that climate change is not just a risk like any other.
During my presentation, I explained that “Bad weather is when you have a certain expectation for the weather based on your past experiences, but by chance the weather deviates from your expectation, and this causes a negative impact on yields. We are now in the 17th consecutive hottest month on record, we are well on track for the second consecutive hottest year on record. This is climate change: it is not the weather that is bad, but your expectations. You are maladapted to the new reality. You are no longer sourcing or producing in the optimal regions or using suitable production systems.”
Adaptation can be costly, and the available means are scarce. The Climate-Smart Value Chains project, in which CIAT is working with other partners, seeks to address this issue by guiding efficient adaptation, using a combination of modeling tools and economic assessment of climate-smart practices. Economically efficient practices that can be used for adaptation will be incentivized by interventions in existing supply chains, such as certification and incentive investment mechanisms. This way CIAT hopes to mainstream climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices in cocoa and coffee supply chains beyond model projects and to reach all smallholder farmers at the poor end. Because not all farmers can be reached using such instruments, CIAT seeks to open a dialog with supply chain actors also interested in the sustainability of their businesses. Many of these actors invest substantial resources in training the farmers in the regions where they source raw material. But when the vision is to make the entire sector climate smart, the decision makers in the cocoa industry can’t be left out.
The presentation was well received and sparked a lively debate. The sector was urged to invest in knowledge. Only with a thorough understanding of the climatic requirements of cocoa production will science be able to provide the urgently needed recommendations for adaptation strategies that can help avoid the adverse effects of climate change.
In contrast, in a subsequent intervention, a representative of Cargill shared their perspective on climate change. Based on an assessment of climate change impacts on grain production in the USA, his company concluded that adapting the tropical perennial cocoa will not be a major challenge.
With a long way to go, CIAT will continue the dialog.
European Cocoa Forum 2016 in the news.
The author of this blog:
Postdoctoral Scientist-Linking Farmers To Markets