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Africa Rising: Will Ivory Coast stop feeding the global chocolate habit?

If Ivory Coast's family-owned cocoa farms don't change the way they do farming, they will stop being able to meet the world's hunger – nay, its certified need – for chocolate. That would be bad.

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“Both the trees and the farmers themselves are getting older and older,” says cocoa program manager Daan de Vries with the sustaibility watchdog UTZ Certified. “At some point, that can't last.”

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Cargill Inc. is hoping it can. The US company, the largest purchaser of Ivory Coast's cocoa, plans to pay $2.2 million in premiums to farmers that use fertilizer, farm sensibly, and invest in their groves.

“The world will need additional cocoa to meet the growing global demand,” wrote Steven Fairbairn, Cargill's head of external communication, in an e-mail. “We believe sustainable production [improving and increasing yield per hectare] will be essential to help keep pace with this growth.”

The company is also investing in new cocoa farms as far out as Indonesia and Vietnam – or in neighboring Ghana, whose government is so eager to make up for Ivory Coast's plunge that it is handing out free cocoa trees. For all Ghana's zeal, though, analysts doubt the country, three-fourths the size of its western neighbor, can compensate for Ivory Coast's loss.

At least one organization, the International Cocoa Organization, however, forecasts a completely opposite, but equally dire outcome: so many nations will rush into cocoa, that production of the crop will actually soar to 6 million tons, a surplus so fulsome that prices will plummet, impoverishing farmers throughout the tropics.

Mr. De Vries says he doubts that outcome. For him, the equation is simple: The world wants chocolate – more, more, more of it – and our top grower of the crop seems inclined to grow less.

“If you go to villages in rural Africa, whether in Ghana, or Ivory Coast, and you ask a classroom of children, do you want to become a cocoa farmer, no one will stick up their hands,” he said. “Clearly, this isn't viable for the future.”

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