There may be bad news for chocolate lovers: A dramatic increase of chocolate consumption in Asia, combined with a destructive tree fungus in South America, could create a worldwide shortage of cocoa beans.
Dr. Gareth Griffith, scientist of the University of Wales (UK), warns that the price of chocolate bars could soar if diseases that have devastated South America's cocoa crops are allowed to spread to other parts of the world. He fears that fungal infections are poised to trigger an international shortage of chocolate. The seed pods of the cacao tree grow not on its branches but directly on the trunk where the fungus spreads.
Writing in Biologist magazine, Dr. Griffith, microbiologist and an expert in fungi, warned that international trade and travel increase the chances of the diseases turning up in Africa. Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa beans at about 1.1 million tons in 1999. (In fact, the country's government estimates that the livelihood of half the country's 14 million people is directly or indirectly tied to cacao production.)
Americans consume approximately 12 pounds of chocolate per year per person. Brits consume about 20 pounds. But the Swiss are the leaders of the pack in Europe consuming over 24 pounds of chocolate per capita!
With chocolate consumption increasing at a rate of 25 percent a year in the Asia-Pacific region, and 30 percent in China, chocolate makers fear that cocoa bean growers will not be able to keep up with demand.
"Chocolate is still very expensive for Chinese," says Fumio Sukegawa, of the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan. "But even just 1 per cent of China is 13 million people, which is about the size of Tokyo. That's why chocolate producers are concerned."
The future of chocolate hinges on whether the Chinese reject their traditional sweets. In Japan , chocolate is still outsold by wagashi, sweets made out of rice, beans and sesame. Combined with the tree fungus in South America, the next global war could be all about chocolate.
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