Climate change comes for chocolate

If you’re wondering why your favourite chocolate has gotten more expensive, blame climate change. Yes, nothing is untouched or unaffected by the real-time effects of climate change – not even chocolate.


Cocoa, climate change & chocolate. 

West Africa produces over 80% of total global cocoa output, with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire alone producing more than 60%. However, extreme rainfall brought on by climate change has reduced cocoa yields in this region. 2023 saw excessive downpours and heatwaves in West Africa, which created ideal conditions for Black Pod disease to flourish. Caused by a fungus, Black Pod disease typically occurs during the rainy season and infects different parts of cocoa trees. If left untreated, Black Pod disease can destroy an entire yield, causing losses of 20 -25% in cacao production. 

Ben Clarke, a researcher at the Imperial College London, has found that rainfall patterns in West Africa are changing due to climate change. As a result, unseasonal downpours are becoming more frequent and intense, with many areas in the region experiencing approximately 50% more rain than usual during May and October. 

According to Clarke: “El Niño years often lead to challenges for farmers through changing patterns of weather. Increasingly, climate change [linked to fossil fuel use] is multiplying this natural challenge in many regions. It fuels more extreme conditions, devastates harvests, and makes food costs higher for all.”

Ghana, the world’s second-biggest cocoa producer in the world, experienced its lowest projected yield in 13 years during the 2022/23 planting season. 

Consequently, West African governments have increased the state-guaranteed price paid to cocoa-producing farmers. Reduced output leads to demand limitations, causing an increase in global prices. International trading cocoa prices are at an all-time high with prices over $7,700 per metric ton – about three times the price of last year. 

A trio of chocolates.

A trio of chocolates. Credit:

Worth its weight in gold. 

The global chocolate industry generates USD 13 billion per year. In 2022, the top importers of cocoa beans were the Netherlands, the US, Malaysia, Germany, Belgium, and Indonesia. Many of these countries are also the world leaders in chocolate exports.

The main manufacturers of chocolate are Mars Wrigley Confectionery (US), Ferrero Group (Luxembourg/Italy), Mondelez International (USA), and Meiji Co Ltd (Japan). 

Chocolate in Brazil is 8% more expensive than last year, with European countries paying around 30% more in 2024 compared to the same period during 2017 – 2022. 

CEO of Hershey (one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world), Michele Buck, said: “given where cocoa prices are, we will be using every tool in our toolbox, including pricing, as a way to manage the business.”

The way forward. 

Plant scientists have recommended two primary solutions to ensure cocoa production remains environmentally sustainable. The first is the provision of shade. Under shady conditions, rates of photosynthesis, growth and yields of cocoa are enhanced. The second solution is good agroforestry practices. Agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. In terms of cocoa production, agroforestry provides a range of benefits including increasing species diversity, providing year-round soil cover & soil fertility, and protecting cocoa plants from strong winds and other unfavourable ecological factors.

The writing is on the wall; either we embrace new sustainable practices or accessibility to luxuries like chocolate becomes even further out of reach.