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Chocolate Crisis?

Diseases and changing climate patterns threaten the future of cocoa

We bet this won’t come as a surprise: People around the world really love eating chocolate. People will eat about 8.4 million tons of chocolate this year. That’s more than the weight of 20 Empire State Buildings!

Most chocolate eaters live in the United States and Europe. China and India—the world’s two most populous countries—are buying more than ever before.

But chocolate has a dark secret: Its future is at risk. Warming climate patterns and diseases threaten cacao crops in Africa and Latin America. Cocoa, which comes from cacao trees, is the main ingredient in chocolate.

Scientists and industry leaders are working together to save cocoa—before it’s too late.

People around the world really love eating chocolate. We bet that doesn’t surprise you! People will eat about 8.4 million tons of chocolate this year. That’s more than the weight of 20 Empire State Buildings!

Most chocolate eaters live in the United States and Europe. But China and India are buying more chocolate than ever before. They are the world’s two most populous countries. 

But chocolate has a dark secret. Its future is at risk. Cacao crops in Africa and Latin America have threats. They include warming climate patterns and diseases. Cocoa, which comes from cacao trees, is the main ingredient in chocolate.

Scientists and industry leaders are working together. They are trying to save cocoa—before it’s too late.

Cacao Tree Collection

For Mariela Leandro, there is such a thing as eating too much chocolate! She has to taste it nearly every day. It’s part of her job as a chocolate scientist. 

Leandro works at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica. Known as CATIE in Spanish, researchers there work to develop cacao plants that produce more pods, yield tastier chocolate, and can survive diseases.  

Cacao trees grow in Africa, Central America, and South America. The trees grow best in warm tropical climates with a lot of rain. Healthy trees can produce crops for up to 40 years.

For Mariela Leandro, there is such a thing as eating too much chocolate. She has to taste it nearly every day. It’s part of her job. She is a chocolate scientist.

Leandro works at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center. It’s in Costa Rica. It’s known as CATIE in Spanish. There, researchers work to develop cacao plants that produce more pods, yield tastier chocolate, and can survive diseases.

Cacao trees grow in Africa, Central America, and South America. The trees grow best in warm tropical climates. They like a lot of rain. Healthy trees can produce crops for up to 40 years.

But a disease can quickly wipe out the trees of a whole farm—and beyond. This happened in Costa Rica about 30 years ago. A disease known as frosty pod rot killed nearly all of the cacao trees in the country. The cocoa industry there has never recovered.

After the die-off, CATIE began studying cacao trees to learn how to protect them. It collected nearly 1,000 different species, all with different traits. 

But a disease can quickly wipe out the trees of a whole farm. Or even more. This happened in Costa Rica about 30 years ago. A disease known as frosty pod rot killed nearly all of the cacao trees in the country. The cocoa industry there has never recovered.

After the die-off, CATIE began studying cacao trees. Researchers wanted to learn how to protect them. They collected nearly 1,000 different species. The species all have different traits. 

Disease Defense

Christopher Pillitz/N Pictures Ltd./Corbis Via Getty Images

At CATIE, Leandro conducts experiments in a giant garden of more than 4,000 cacao trees. She and other scientists note which trees are the healthiest and which produce the best-tasting beans.

Scientists try to infect some of the healthy trees with diseases to see which are vulnerable. “Some trees are resistant to attack,” she says.

Scientists use these resistant trees to develop new and improved cacao varieties. They select trees to breed together. Then they test the new trees by growing them in different locations to make sure they resist local diseases.

For Leandro, time is of the essence. Frosty pod rot, black pod, and witches’ broom have killed more than one-third of cacao trees in Central and South America. But the diseases haven’t yet reached West Africa, where most of the world’s cacao is grown. If they do, the consequences could be dire.

At CATIE, Leandro conducts experiments in a giant garden. There are more than 4,000 cacao trees. She and other scientists note which trees are the healthiest. They also note which trees produce the best-tasting beans.

Scientists try to infect some of the healthy trees with diseases. That’s so they can see which trees are vulnerable. “Some trees are resistant to attack,” Leandro says.

Scientists use these resistant trees to develop new and improved cacao varieties. They select trees to breed together. Then they test the new trees. They grow them in different locations. That’s to make sure they resist local diseases.

For Leandro, time is of the essence. Frosty pod rot, black pod, and witches’ broom have killed more than one-third of cacao trees in Central and South America. But the diseases haven’t yet reached West Africa. That’s where most of the world’s cacao is grown. If they do, the consequences could be dire.

A Sweet Future?

Disease isn’t the only issue that’s worrying cacao growers. Globally, temperatures have been steadily rising. The past 10 years have been the hottest on record. Regions around the equator are getting hotter and experiencing more droughts.

Farmers and researchers are bracing for these changes. At CATIE, “we are also looking for trees that will resist a drought,” Leandro says.  

In the meantime, Leandro is watching to see how CATIE’s new disease-resistant plants do on cacao plantations in six different Central American countries. 

“This is really important work,” Leandro says. The future of chocolate depends on it.

Disease isn’t the only issue that’s worrying cacao growers. Globally, temperatures have been steadily rising. The past 10 years have been the hottest on record. Regions around the equator are getting hotter. They also experience more droughts.

Farmers and researchers are bracing for these changes. At CATIE, “we are also looking for trees that will resist a drought,” Leandro says.  

In the meantime, Leandro is watching to see how CATIE’s new disease-resistant plants do on cacao plantations. They are located in six different Central American countries.

“This is really important work,” Leandro says. The future of chocolate depends on it.

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How many fourths are in 1 whole?

You want to divide 1 chocolate bar equally among 4 friends. How many parts should you divide your chocolate bar into? Write a division equation with a unit fraction.

You want to divide 1 chocolate bar equally among 4 friends. How many parts should you divide your chocolate bar into? Write a division equation with a unit fraction.

You have 5 Hershey’s Kisses, which weigh 1 ounce total. Write an expression for the weight of 1 Kiss. Explain with a tape diagram why your answer is NOT 5 ÷ 1 = 5.

You have 5 Hershey’s Kisses, which weigh 1 ounce total. Write an expression for the weight of 1 Kiss. Explain with a tape diagram why your answer is NOT 5 ÷ 1 = 5.

Solve your expression. What is the weight of each piece of chocolate?

Solve your expression. What is the weight of each piece of chocolate?

It takes 15 cocoa beans to make 1/2 ounce of chocolate. Write and solve an equation to divide 1/2 ounce of chocolate into 2 parts.

It takes 15 cocoa beans to make 1/2 ounce of chocolate. Write and solve an equation to divide 1/2 ounce of chocolate into 2 parts.

Draw a tape diagram that justifies your answer to part A.

Draw a tape diagram that justifies your answer to part A.

You make a 1-ounce chocolate bar from the cocoa beans in 1 pod. If you divide your bar into eighths, how many pieces do you have?

You make a 1-ounce chocolate bar from the cocoa beans in 1 pod. If you divide your bar into eighths, how many pieces do you have?

What does each piece weigh if it’s divided in half? Write and solve multiple equations.

What does each piece weigh if it’s divided in half? Write and solve multiple equations. 

Two chocolates weigh 3/5 ounce total. Write and solve an equation to find the weight of each chocolate:

Two chocolates weigh 3/5 ounce total. Write and solve an equation to find the weight of each chocolate:

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