The 4 big impacts affecting chocolate

When I stood in my kitchen years 8 ago spending hours, weeks, and years creating the formulas for my special ground chocolate, I thought that was a hard work done. I thought figuring out how to grind cacao, how to make chocolate, how to build a chocolate company, how to bring it to market – I thought that was the hard stuff.

It is not about the tonnes of commercially traded cacao that is sitting in storage buildings around the world waiting to be turned into Easter eggs, it is about the guys working the farms daily, and seeing their weather change, worrying for their health, wondering what new varieties a scientist gives them to grow and having even fewer pods per harvest.

Basically, I realised that the hardest part about building a chocolate company was not creating recipes and securing cacao from farmers. Rather, helping farmers ensure that they can continue to yield beautiful natural cacao. That is when I shifted my whole idea of building BLYSS as a chocolate company, and more as a cacao company about the survival of our favourite sweet. Literally, cacao is melting in the environment and the business of agroecology is drying up before all of our eyes. Once I realised this, I was really shocked.

Every vintage we send out cacao to our customers tastes different. It acts different. It smells different. With every vintage I send a detailed report about what happened in the topography about why the cacao will have longer berry nuances, a rougher skin or a more pronounced nutty taste. Due to producing these reports, I started seeing wildly different effects in all our vintages over the years.

HOW WE PREPARE

Like most modern businesses operating over many countries and time zones, I conduct a lot of my business via video conferencing, What’s App, Skype, Facebook Video, Voxer, text message. I call up the partners in Equador, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. I chat with the farmers. I talk with import and export organizations and my customers, and it always starts the same way. You know, like any business conversation.

Hi. How are you? How’s the weather? And it’s at that – how’s the weather – that usually, my brain goes, bing.

It was always an answer, something like, it’s crazy.

Something else has happened. It’s wetter than normal. It’s drier than normal. It’s crazier than normal. It’s- all these weird effects were happening and certainly, at least on the cacao plantations that I was working with.

And then, you know, I’d talk to my mother in Australia and almost cry as my home sate of Queensland was being flooded. I’d get messages from my friends in Tokyo as the tsunami came to them. My girlfriend in Christchurch is crying as her city is still repairing itself after a big earthquake. So, we know there’s been some pretty wacky weather going on.

But of me, the big shock happened is when I really started to see it impact my chocolate, and impact my business, and literally see the chocolate melting before my eyes. And I really wonder about the farmers and the future of what our dinner parties are going to be like if this continues.

So, we set up the Follow The Sun concept, where we’re constantly looking at the weather, literally every four hours, what was going on on plantation, and what do we expect the effects to be on our chocolate. And I think, you know, after a few months of this, and now a year, I start to see my chocolate’s melting before it even gets a chance.

I want you to understand the big impacts of what’s happening, why our chocolate is changing, and what, the four things that’s happening to my chocolate right now.

If you’re a food connoisseur; if you’re a expert; or if you love going out to great restaurants and enjoying putting a dinner party on for your friends –  this is important for you to know, because what you’re putting on your table tomorrow is going to be very different to what’s happening in six months, and twelve months, if even you can put it on in the future.

1. There is Less Yield

The first big thing that we see is we’re not growing as much chocolate as we used to. The Theobroma cacao which is the tree that grows chocolate all over the world, 20 degrees above and below the equator, certainly in our plantations, there’s about 30 percent less yield in the lifetime of the people who’s working the fields right now. Thirty percent in one lifetime – that’s a big drop.

When I talk to my farmers they all say, ‘there’s nothing like when I was a kid’. Or, they hear stories from their father or their grandfather and they think is this basically the same land that we’re working. It almost seems like a fairy tale of what was being farmed 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and today. We’re growing less cacao. People, that means less chocolate in the future. I’m not even talking about the issues about world bank, and speculative markets, and stock exchanges – that’s, you know, artificially inflating and changing the amount of chocolate we have.

Climate’s changing enough, you might not have any chocolate in the future. How do you feel about that? Maybe make some action?

2. The Weather is Wacked

The next thing they’re seeing is really intense weather-related conditions. I feel it. If I’m sitting on the beach on the Esmeraldas area, I’m feeling tremors under my feet all the time, recently there was a giant earthquake that shook the whole area of Manabi. Of course the people who are working cacao for us are worried. They’re looking at the weather as it storms in from the sea.

The big impacts of massive weather changes to our food system is that our farmers might not be able to stay living where they are. They might not be able to stay living with the trees that have been producing all of this beautiful produce over the years. The intense weather conditions is a major threat to our chocolate supply.

3. Things are Running Out

The next big issue is extinctions. The Arriba Nacionale, the mesoamerican Crillio, some natural hybrids of Trinitario, cacaos that I love to work with are already mass cloned. They have numbers, like CCN-51 and are mutations.

This was made for easy agriculture, and to make a more robust and easy to grow, maturing plant. But cloning and making easy versions of plants is not going to be our way of the future. We can’t just ignore extinctions. You will have a tough time finding authentic mesoamerican Crillio in Mexico anymore.

When you think about it, even back in the 1700s, there was a big natural disaster, a disease, that almost wiped out the chocolate industry then. Lucky, there were some smart farmers who worked out hybridization to cultivate stronger plants for the future, but climate change is a big issue that’s going to drastically effect the extinction, or the prolongevity, of our plants. Especially when mutations are being created in petrie dishes and replacing the natural evolution of the species.

4. Disease is Killing Us

Another big issue that’s effecting our chocolate in the future is the diseases. In warmer climates, as our climates change, diseases can transfer faster and quicker. I have a friend in Ecuador, whose job within the government is to fly around to remote villages and just check what’s going on with airborne diseases. These are things like stuff that’s transferred by mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes love warm weather. Mosquitoes love the current weather changes that we’re having. Dengue and malaria are big issues that are facing, remote tribes that are in parts of South America, which never had hit them before. Guys we work with literally were struck down in the last years with long fevers which had never entered their health system before, and it was really distressing to see their sadness, and the worry of their families as it seemed like such a foreign and unknown illness.

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You guys are my customers and partners that I’m working with all the time. I wanted to raise the issue of why my chocolate is changing constantly every month, why we’re getting less, why we’re worried that the safety of our farmers, through extreme climate conditions or disease spread, and why we’re actually worried that there might not even be a future for chocolate. It is not about the tonnes of commercially traded cacao that is sitting in storage buildings around the world waiting to be turned into Easter eggs, it is about the guys working the farms daily, and seeing their weather change, worrying for their health, wondering what new varieties a scientist gives them to grow and having even fewer pods per harvest.

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