For chocolate lovers worldwide, a recent article published in Great Britian’s Daily Mail probably sounded much like the big hand of the Doomsday Clock as it moved one more minute forward.
According to British chocolatier and magazine editor Angus Kennedy, the world is facing a chocolate shortage, and it has nothing to do with the weather. It’s all about politics and violence.
Forty percent of the world’s cacao beans comes from the Ivory Coast, and political unrest and a lack of protection for farmers and traders who are risking their lives to make a living has caused many growers to flee that nation, and buyers to avoid going there and start looking for other sources. And according to Kennedy, even if the civil war between different factions supporting the current president Alassane Ouattra, and those who support the former president, Laurent Gbagbo (who has yet to acknowledge or accept his electoral defeat in elections that took place in November 2010), it would take several years for the farming of cacao, sustainable or otherwise, to return to peak levels.
So, where is the remaining 60% of the world’s supply of cacao, and if there’s that much left, why is it an issue?
Part of the problem is that the number of fair trade growers has gone down with the issues in the Ivory Coast. Fair trade matters to a lot of buyers and consumers. For a grower to earn that label, it means the farmers get a fair price for their product, and they are not engaging in farming practices harmful to people, including child labor, enforced slavery, kidnappings, and unsafe working conditions. Only ten percent of the world’s 5.5 million cocoa farmers are certified as fair trade growers. Fair trade products usually cost more, but consumers who want it know that, and are willing to pay for sweets without sorrow.
The supply of cacao, fair trade or otherwise, now knocked down by 40%, means that prices will rise, but it means that candy manufacturers will be fighting over the remaining supplies of sustainable chocolate, and as these fights usually go, those companies with the deepest pockets are most likely to win. Other cacao-producing countries, including Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon and Ecuador can pick up some of the loss, but their combined output just about equals that of the Ivory Coast, according to the most recent production statistics available from the International Cocoa Organization, for the production year 2010-2011.
Is it time to make room in the pantry, or empty a shelf in the fridge, so you can stock up on chocolate? It might be, but then again, I always have 20 or so bars of the good stuff on hand. So I am a little biased. If you’re going to make a dash for it, here’s a few for your consideration that I’ve tested in the past:
Michel Cluizel 60% with Nibs: A crunch bar for grown-ups! Dark and slightly sweet with coffee nibs throughout. Good shine, nice snap and the balance between chocolate and coffee is perfect.
Lindt Ecuador 75%: Brittle and on the bitter side of sweet, with an aftertaste of liquorice, leather and wood. But all in a good way. Another grown-up bar.
Lindt Madagascar 65%: Closer to a milk chocolate taste, but smoother and with a lot of raspberry flavor. Midway between sweet and bitter, with a buttery texture.