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The Chocolate Crisis...........or a Husband's Dilemma
On Valentine’s Day, shortly before my wife was to get her flowers and truffles, I was reading my February issue of Scientific American which featured an article on the Cocoa tree, which is the source of every single bean that eventually becomes chocolate. Plant biology is not my strongest area, as my garden will attest, but chocolate gets my interest.
I have heard and known of the peril of the cocoa tree for a few years, just not any details. I have learned that cocoa is difficult to grow and likes particular areas on our planet, which are threatened by global warming. The cocoa tree is also susceptible because unlike many of the plants we are familiar with, there is only one species of cocoa tree, with about ten varieties.
This one species and its’ varieties provide all of the chocolate in the world, a world in which demand is growing and cocoa is running out of room to be grown as well as becoming vulnerable to disease. Our modern way of life and ease of transportation around the world make it easier for diseases in one part of the world to make it to another part and establish itself there, where it may have never been before.
The tree only grows in tropical regions near the equator and needs rich, well drained soils along with the heat and humidity. Such soils are not common in tropical regions, and the weather it likes is conducive to fungus, pest and other problems which the cocoa tree battles.
I had not realized that most every man’s one sure gift to his significant other was in such peril. I don’t know if I could live with my wife without chocolate in her life - or maybe that is the other way around.
While there are many examples of science and technology being misused, the cocoa tree is an example of modern science, corporations and even government, working altruistically for the benefit of all. Science is working to save our supply of chocolate, led by the Mars candy company who helped pay to sequence the genome of the cocoa tree and share it with all to benefit from breeding and genetic work that will need to be done to save chocolate. This is a positive and unselfish example of the potential benefits of genetics being conducted responsibly.
Global warming is also a threat, as the earth warms, growing regions will shift and cocoa trees will no longer be able to tolerate the areas they are in now. There are possibilities that the farms will move with the climate, but who knows where that will be, you can’t raise say, the city of Rio De Janeiro and move the population elsewhere if that area becomes capable of growing cocoa.
Cocoa also has not had many of the benefits we see with modern farming that has increased yields and production. Work to educate farmers about methods for pesticides, irrigation and fertilizers is under way by universities and the U.S Department of Agriculture who are working with local governments and universities, but will take a long time without more direct intervention as most cocoa farmers are poor, uneducated and isolated in remote regions.
I fear the work will not happen quickly enough and we will see the effects. Rising chocolate prices, shortages and perhaps no chocolate at all are possible - if one of the diseases that plague the tree were to become more prominent. Men will either crumble or pay dearly as they have few other ideas what to give their wives and girlfriends after chocolate and flowers for any occasion. Diamonds may become a bargain, and easier to find.
It will take science to save us men – I mean chocolate. Science will need to re-engineer the cocoa tree, or at least come up with a substitute in case all else fails. And a substitute would not be easy, this isn’t tofu passing as chicken nuggets, it is beyond food. The aphrodisiacal qualities of chocolate are highly regarded, even if they don’t really work, and is a highly prized treat throughout the world. I can tell the difference between Coke and other colas that are not Coke (they know who they are). Chocolate is a much more complicated taste.
So while we wait for science to save the cocoa tree, you might want to grab some extra chocolate while you’re shopping for your kid’s Easter Basket this year for later, because it may not be there in the future.