Monica Pelliccia and Daniela Frechero

Design by Isacco Chiaf

The countdown has started for chocolate lovers. Clocks are synchronised for the year 2020, when a possible lack of cocoa could embitter the palates of many, due to a combination of an increase in demand and a decrease in supply. The news broke at the end of 2014, when the results of a market trend analysis were released by the multinational company Barry Callebaut and picked up by several newspapers.

But is the future of cocoa really so dark? According to Pamela Thornton, who analyses the cocoa market, "2020 has been a media fabrication; it is not taken seriously by people within the cocoa research community". But she does admit to having some concerns about chocolate's future. "The climatic phenomenon El Nino will take place in Ecuador and Indonesia and we have noticed dryer than normal weather in West Africa. 2015 will see a shortage of cocoa and it will be quite substantial, probably of 250,000 tonnes, the biggest in several years. In the meantime the demand is growing 2-2.5 percent every year."

The future of the fruit is a puzzle of many parts, including the consequences of climate change and El Nino's arrival in Ecuador, increased consumption in populous parts of Asia, such as India, and the transition towards new models of production, as is already happening in Brazil.

Global Cocoa Production: deficit and surplus

Source: ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLI, No. 2, Cocoa year 2014/15

How many tonnes of cocoa were produced worldwide in 2015?


The estimated world production of cocoa beans correspond to 4 million tonnes.
That is 4,000 times the weight of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero.

Source: ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLI, No. 2, Cocoa year 2014/15

Cocoa, the phoenix

The leaves squeak under her feet as Glicelia Jesus da Silva, one of the leaders of the indigenous Tupinamba people, walks with a firm step along the cocoa tree lined paths of Serra do Padeiro in the south of Bahía. The Tupinamba believe these ancient lands are protected by the "enchanted ones", the spirits of their ancestors who are reincarnated in the trees. She was born in this village, where she has lived for 33 years. She is a school teacher and spokesperson for the community, which lives off the production and sales of cocoa.

Da Silva was born in the village of Serra do Padeiro and has lived here for 33 years.

In Brazil's southern Bahia region, large estate owners grew wealthy off the fruit and the labour of those who worked their land. And Brazil was the second-largest exporter of cocoa until an act of bioterrorism destroyed the crop. The Amazonian fungus known as Vassoura de Bruxa, or the witches-broom disease, was introduced to the region in the late 1980s, although it is still unclear by whom.

What is clear, however, is that it had huge social, economic and environmental consequences. Ninety percent of the plantations were lost. More than 250,000 rural workers became unemployed and moved to the cities, where they then built favelas. "Some former cocoa farmers' children now sell crack in the favelas," says Daniel Piotto, a professor at Federal do Sul da Bahia University.

Manuel Anastacio Leandro started to work with cocoa when he was 14 years old. But, after 40 years of working on the plantations, he lost his job. That was right after the arrival of the witches-broom disease. He, his wife and their 10 children headed south to Bahia's financial centre, Ilheus City. Today, he still lives there, in the Tedonio Villela neighbourhood, where he has a cocoa tree in his garden to remind him of the past. But this is not the only reminder he has: he also has a skin disorder - the result of all the chemical products and herbicides used on the plantations to control plant diseases.

Nowadays, Brazil produces cocoa mainly to satisfy internal consumption. But, like a phoenix, it is rising from its ashes. "Crises aren't always the end of the world. Now we can see the positive side of the witches-broom disease." Explains Gerson Marques, the executive secretary of the Cabruca Institute, an organisation that specialises in developing cocoa production. "Social movements, indigenous people and family cooperatives had the opportunity to take over the cocoa production, occupying lands left by the indebted owners or buying them at a very low price. This is how the chocolate age began." Social movements such as the Landless Workers' Movement, which occupied around 900 hectares of land in the Arataca area more than 20 years ago, have already launched their own organic chocolate called Terra Vista. Likewise, the cooperative of families, Embauba, also produces its own brand. They don't have bosses or landowner to control them. They now work in a self-organised way, taking care of their cocoa, from the tree to the chocolate bar.

Nicole Lellys of the Embauba cooperative shows the pulp of a cocoa fruit.

A new chapter has begun for Glicelia and the Tupinamba community. With the arrival of the witches-broom disease, they had the opportunity to get back the lands that had been taken from them by local politicians during the cocoa boom. She says the "enchanted ones" appeared in their dreams, telling them that it was time to fight for their land. And these are lands rich in lush vegetation and surrounded by rivers.

In 2009, the government circumscribed 47,376 hectares of the Tupinamba community, a preliminary step towards recognising their ownership of the land cocoa is now the foundation of their economy - just as it has always been the protagonist of their history. "We threw cocoa pods as our only weapon against the police when they came with two helicopters, 180 policemen and 33 vehicles, to evict our village accusing us of hiding weapons. This was only one of the many attacks we had to encounter to defend our lands," says Da Silva, recalling an event that took place seven years ago. As the sun goes down over the sierra, she touches her pregnant belly, protecting her unborn second child. "We never belonged in another place," she says. "No one will force us to leave this land and the cocoa."

Cocoa pods infected by Vassoura de bruxa in Tupinamba village.

Jurandir Jesus da Silva, a producer of cocoa walks throught the Tupinamba village.

How many tonnes of cocoa will be lost because of El Nino in Ecuador?


The estimated loss of cocoa corresponds to 40,000 tonnes.
The weight of one cargo ship.

Source: National Association of Cocoa Exporters in Ecuador, Anecocoa

With El Nino at the doorstep

Looking west, along the equator, the threat to the future of cocoa seems to come from the sea: El Nino, a cyclical atmospheric phenomenon generated by the warming of the oceans that causes rain and abnormal droughts. It is a situation that keeps a large number of Ecuadorian cocoa producers wondering. Among them is Servio Pachard, a fourth generation cocoa producer originally from Manabi, located in the centre-west part of the country. It is in the forests here, where cocoa trees coexist with papayas, avocados and other tropical fruits, that he produces the organic To'ak chocolate, said by Forbes magazine to be the most expensive in the world at $260 for 50g. "The weather forecasts say that El Nino will be something similar to that of 1997. It was the worst crisis that I have ever experienced. Sometimes, it was raining 24 hours non-stop. Plants couldn't survive the lack of sun. It was a very serious problem for the producers, it took us five to seven years to recover it all," he says.

Servio Pachard, a fourth generation cocoa producer, on his farm.

"2015 was one of the warmest years in history," says Raúl Mejía, an Instituto Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología (INAMHI) coordinator. "And the climate change intensifies the natural extreme events worldwide, such as El Nino. If in the next 50 years temperatures rise two degrees more, the natural equilibrium will collapse." The phenomenon is expected to affect cocoa production as fields are flooded and cocoa distribution as roads become waterlogged. The National Association of Cocoa Exporters in Ecuador, (Anecocoa), estimates that there could be a loss of 40,000 metric tonnes of cocoa.

Extreme phenomena, such as El Nino, are not the only effects of the climate change that Manabi farmers have dealt with. This enemy, that has become part of the farmers' daily routine, has also produced changes in temperature, altering seasons and causing important temperature variations after sunset. "Cocoa pods are dying at their early stages because of low temperatures at night," explains Servio. "These temperatures also cause a microclimate that favours the spread of diseases."

While some cocoa producers don't believe in the arrival of El Nino, others, like Servio, along with roughly half of the farmers in the region, have already prepared drainage channels to avoid floods and control humidity, which could lead to the spread of diseases, such as the witches-broom disease or la Monilla. Servio talks about this matter at the organisation of which he is a member, la Red de guardianes de semillas, the Seed Guardians Network. It is concerned with preserving endangered native seeds, and has already gathered 200 types.

"Since the time of my great grandparents, we have always grown national fine aroma cocoa, the flavour of my childhood. It is a special variety recognisable for its sweet flavour, as it contains up to 17 percent of sucrose," Servio says as he opens a cocoa pod to eat the pulp in its interior. "This variety is also threatened, since many prefer clones, different varieties of cocoa grafts which give excellent results in volume and resistance to diseases, but not in quality. But here people resist the idea of cultivating another type of cocoa. After some tests, we discovered 100 percent national cocoa in our plantations, which we are multiplying to give it to the producers."

Grafts are taken from a cocoa plant at the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIAP).

South of Manabi, in Guayaquil city, the economic heart of Ecuador, the Union of the Cocoa Farmer Organizations of Ecuador (UNOCACE) is based. It has provided more than 1,000 farmers from the region with organic certification. "We use clones of fine aroma cocoa, grafts provided by the Ecuador National Investigation Institute of agriculture and livestock (INIAP), crossing the most disease-resistant varieties. We renew our plantations to ensure the future of cocoa and prepare ourselves for a moment like this, with El Nino on its way," says Freddy Cabello, UNOCACE's manager.

Eddy Jose Velez from the Seed Guardians Network prepares drainage as he waits for the arrival of El Nino.

Jacinto Velazquez from the Union of Cocoa Farmer Organizations in his cocoa garden.

How many tonnes of chocolate were consumed in India in 2015?


The expected consumption of chocolate in India corresponds to 134,000 tonnes.
The weight of 30,000 Asian elephants.

Source: Mintel, market research company

The sweet fever comes from the west

On the other side of the globe to where it is produced, cocoa's new consumers are to be found. These are people like 24-year-old Rekha Pawao, from Navi Mumbai, a township where 50,000 people live in huts that are no bigger than five square metres. She usually buys mini packets of chocolate from the kiosk next to the school where she teaches, but these 10g portions for five rupees (around $0.075) can be found on any sweet stand across the city.

Rekha Pawao, a teacher in the school where she works.

Her husband works in rock extraction and she teaches maths, Hindi and English to children aged between three and six. There are no chairs, tables or blackboards at her school so the children sit together on the floor of the small classroom. "It is true that goods like chocolate, for instance, do get here. However, the people that live in these slums, like these children's families, only eat it during special occasions and celebrations. It is not an everyday thing for someone who has to ensure a daily meal," says Rajashree Nayak from the Arphen NGO, who manages the school where Rekha teaches.

Chocolate may not be affordable for everyone here, but it has certainly captivated a significant portion of Indian society. Consumption per capita has grown from 50g to 120g over the past five years. That may not seem like so much when compared to the 9kg per capita consumed by the Swiss, but when multiplied by the 1.2 billion inhabitants of India, it is equal to the weight of 30,000 Asian elephants. And it is a trend that does not look likely to revert. In fact, according to the market research company Mintel, it will have increased by 60 percent by 2019. The greatest increase registered so far is in the consumption of chocolate aimed at children and featuring surprises on the inside, which grew by 30 percent in 2014, according to the Euromonitor marketing research company. "In the last 20 years with globalisation, the way of life of the Indians has changed and their wages have increased, and a new system of values has developed between the respect to their traditions and the imitation of the Western world," explains Pralhad Jogdand, a professor of sociology at Mumbai University. "Chocolate means modernity, as we see in the advertising posters we find around Mumbai with Bollywood actresses as protagonists."

How much chocolate will India consume?

Source: Mintel, market research company.

In the Mumbai neighbourhood of Colaba, chocolates and pastries have largely replaced more traditional Indian sweets as the after-dinner food of choice. And many of those with a sweet tooth head to the famous Theobroma Patisserie, where 90 percent of the desserts are made from chocolate. Between the cakes and pain au chocolat, the renowned patisserie chef Kainaz Messman sometimes introduces recipes that combine chocolate with more local flavours, such as green cardamom, ginger and other spices. "Chocolate isn't native to India," says the 34-year-old chef. "Before, it was just a sporadic pleasure. My generation has been the first to have access to this good in the last 30 years." Now, he says, "chocolate is replacing typical Indian sweets as a gift in all the festivities."

And it seems that even Hindu deities love chocolate. In the Thekkan Pazhani Sree temple in Allepey city, the most common offering to the gods are bars of milk chocolate, often bought from the stand at the temple's entrance. In the little shop, the purple chocolate wrappers stand out from among the colourful carnation and seed necklaces. They are the preferred offering of students looking for help from the gods to successfully pass their exams. "Nine years ago, one student started this tradition that continues to today," says Syam, a member of the temple. From six-year-old Anantha Krishnan to 20-year-old engineering student Arya, everyone seems to think that chocolate could help secure them good marks. They come the day before their exams to deposit the chocolate in front of the deity.

Now even the gods may be looking towards the thickening clouds on the other side of the world with mistrust, as El Nino threatens future supplies of this food Indians have come to love, and upon which many Ecuadorians and Brazilians depend.

Devotees give chocolate to Lord Murugan.

Students at the entrance to the Thekkan Pazhani temple show the chocolate bars they have brought as offerings.

An @ajlabs production