• For those who love chocolate, it might be wise to stock up soon. Scientists have discovered that a destructive disease is rapidly spreading among cacao trees in West Africa, which could jeopardise the global chocolate supply.

    According to Benito Chen-Charpentier, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Arlington and author of the ‘Cacao sustainability: The case of cacao swollen-shoot virus co-infection’ study, the cacao swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD) is one of the most economically damaging diseases of cacao trees.

    It accounts for between 15 and 50% of harvest losses in Ghana.

    ‘This virus is a real threat to the global supply of chocolate,’ Chen-Charpentier told the New York Post.

    The virus spreads via mealybugs that feed on the crop. Once infected, the plant exhibits a range of symptoms, such as swelling of the stems and roots, red veins on immature leaves and rounding and shrinking of the cacao pod.

    According to the study, scientists attribute the disease to ‘globalisation, climate change, agricultural intensification and reduced resilience in production system’.

    The crisis has led to a global cacao supply shortage of 8% for the 2024/25 season, resulting in a spike in chocolate prices.

    For the first time, cocoa prices have shot past R190 825 per tonne, IOL reports. While some companies are considering price hikes to offset the increased costs, others are looking at alternative strategies, such as reducing packaging sizes and using approved cocoa butter substitutes.

    Several South Africans have taken to social media to express their frustration at the cost of chocolate.

    ‘This is a sad state of affairs, as it appears every time we are faced with a challenge, consumers have to suffer indirectly,’ one X user wrote.

    ‘The cocoa crisis should not be used to punish consumers, instead, alternative solutions must be found without the increase of the product prices.’

    Another X user argues that the price increases might be a blessing in disguise.

    ‘Chocolate getting pricier? Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. With sugar being dubbed deadlier than smoking, maybe it’s time to rethink our sweet tooth obsession. Your health is worth more than a cheap thrill!’

    ‘Chocolate is definitely going into the luxury segment, the way prices are going. Do you think this is an opportunity to make clients look at non-chocolate options?’ a third X user stated.

    Zumi Njongwe, a Nestlé executive for sweets in East and Southern Africa, says the high cocoa prices and supply shortages, worsened by heavy rainfall in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, have serious effects not only on chocolate makers but also on cocoa-farming families across the globe, whose incomes rely on this product.

    ‘Addressing the cocoa crisis and ensuring a sustainable future for cocoa-farming communities requires more than just changing farming and production methods.’

    ‘It also involves reshaping consumer preferences towards more sustainable options. Studies indicate that around 65% of consumers are inclined towards making choices that contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.’

    ‘To meet this demand, food producers, suppliers, and retailers must make sustainable options easy, affordable, and attractive.’

    ‘This involves overcoming barriers such as price and availability and ensuring that sustainable options are as tasty and appealing as less sustainable alternatives. Innovation, reformulation, and the use of quality ingredients are essential in achieving this balance.’

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    Written by Ilze-Mari van Zyl for Cape Etc.

    Feature image: Unsplash