Climate change and chocolate

How will climate change affect cocoa production in West Africa?

Yves Herman/Reuters/File
A worker at Barry Callebaut factory inspects cocoa beans in Lebbeke, Belguim. Some question whether coca farmers in West Africa will be able to adapt to the coming effects of climate change.

This report is worth reading for two reasons. It provides some best estimates of how climate change is likely to affect the geography of where cocoa can be grown in West Africa and what might happen to farmers in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. But, it is also revealing that the authors of the report only mention "adaptation" in the conclusion. They implicitly assume that cocoa growers do not "change their game" as climate change takes place. They implicitly assume a worst case scenario of no behavioral change in analyzing how climate change will affect West African farmers' income and the global supply of chocolate. That's a pinch nuts.
In fairness to the authors, they offer some sensible recommendations at the end of their report. To quote them,

"The development and implementation of adaptation strategies to face progressive climate change depend on the participation of all actors in the cocoa sector. The recommendations below are specific to each of them. For farmers:
 To implement new technologies available mainly for drought-tolerant germplasm and irrigation systems;
 To implement an efficient cocoa shade management (Isaac et al., 2007), that can contribute to buffering temperatures;
 As the current growing areas become hotter, farmers should implement activities to prevent bushfires; and
 Farm diversification with alternative crops such as orange, oil palm and cashew (Anim-Kwapong and Frimpong, 2005) for areas that will become unsuitable in the future.
For researchers:
 Research on drought-tolerant cocoa germplasm and irrigation systems;
 Further research on the effects of climate change on crops including the implementation of technological alternatives to explore better environmental and economic options;
 Participate in the development of nationals policies for adaptation"

The open behavioral question here is whether the West African farmers will implement these intuitive suggestions. They certainly have the right incentives to do so! But, some may lack the information (The Gates Foundation can play this role) or the capital to finance changes in production techniques. The authors of this report do not bother to state how effective such adaptation measures might be to enable these farmers to continue to prosper in our hotter future.
But, when the scientists and bloggers do not engage with the power of adaptation as a coping strategy, the public is presented with with this type of headline.

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