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Chocolate’s impact on the planet

As you enjoy the delicious taste of your favourite chocolate bar it rarely crosses any of our minds just what eating it is doing to the environment of the planet. Just how bad you ask?

The main constituent parts of a chocolate bar are milk and cocoa. Milk is, obviously, produced by cows and it is well known that cows produce vast amounts of methane in their digestive systems. Furthermore, changes in land use to accommodate greater and larger herds of cows worldwide have meant that fewer trees exist to soak up the greenhouse gases produced by the cows.

The same land use issue is also at the core of cocoa. Worldwide demand for cocoa is skyrocketing as the world gets wealthier and ever more crowded (8 billion at the last count). Places such as Peru, Ghana and Indonesia have seen rapid deforestation to satisfy worldwide demand. The trees that have been removed provide for a balanced ecosystem but once they are removed the soil that remains is only capable of delivering good yields for around 5-10 years before it is exhausted.

Fortunately, this land use pattern points to a potential win-win situation. Measures that improve the lives of smallholder farmers will also enable more sustainable production. The big chocolate brands know this, and there are cocoa and forestry schemes looking at how to address the problem. African governments know it too, and they are working on reining in illegal logging.

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