Cacao plants can only grow within a narrow strip of rainforested land roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator, where temperature, rain, and humidity all stay relatively constant throughout the year. But their most important use may be in the developing world, where numerous plants that people rely on to avoid starvation are threatened by the impacts of climate change, including more pests and a lack of water.
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But a temperature rise of just 2.1C over the next 30 years caused by global warming is set to wreak havoc for the plants - and in turn the worldwide chocolate industry, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That supposed silver lining was stripped away by NPR's The Salt, where Simran Sethi underscored the fact that climate change will nearly certainly affect cacao yields but is quite unlikely to make for better tasting chocolate - unless you really like bitter and astringent flavors. More than half of the world's chocolate now comes from two countries in West Africa, being Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. But before you start stockpiling decades worth of chocolate bars, you should know that scientists are already at work trying to save the plant.
Mars, Incorporated is well aware of these problems and other related issues that climate change poses. "There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don't think we're getting there fast enough collectively".
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Mars' decision to collaborate with UC Berkeley scientists is a part of this initiative. The team at Berkeley is working with the Mars company on gene-editing technology, called CRISPR, to prevent the plant from wilting and decaying in the uncertain years to come.
The average consumer eats 286 bars of chocolate a year (it's not often we can be smugly "above average".), but in order to produce that number, ten cacao trees must be planted. Numerous efforts by graduate students there focus on using CRISPR to benefit small-holder farmers in the developing world.
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Sod the diet, we need enjoy the chocolate whilst we still can.