Chocoholics, be afraid. Be very afraid. Peak chocolate is coming.
Soon, humanity's appetite for chocolate will increase to the point where there just isn't enough chocolate in the world to sustain it. Researchers and chocolatiers the world over are predicting a chocolate peak within 20 years, John Mason, of the Nature Conservation Research Council told The Independent:
"In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
On of the main reasons for trouble in the chocolate trade is the collapse of the cacao farming industry. In the "cocoa basket" of West Africa cacao trees are dying off, cacao pods are being eaten by pests, and cultivation areas are being depleted of nutrients or are being taken over by more profitable crops, chocolatier Marc Demarquette explains to The Independent:
"Production will have decreased within 20 years to the point where we won't see any more cheap bars in vending machines – unless they are made with carob instead of chocolate," he says. "It's because the growers in West Africa only see 2p for every 1 £ bar. Even if you double that, it's no incentive for the next generation – which rightly expects decent working conditions. Those young people are heading for the cities. They won't stay around just so schoolchildren and commuters can continue to get their quick fix."
The cacao trees themselves take about five years to mature, so they require farmers with patience and the resources for a long-term investment. Some chocolate companies are working to keep the crops growing by encouraging fair trade (Cadbury) and replanting trees (Nestle), but Mars believes that salvation could also come from left field: the chocolate genome.
Howard Yana-Shapiro, a researcher for Mars, is hoping to engineer new strains of the cacao tree that would provide yield more pods, would grow quicker, and/or would be pest resistant. These advanced trees could mean more cocoa could be produced on less land, and certain characteristics could be screened for, BBC News explains:
Now correlations between certain characteristics -- such as disease and drought resistance or higher proportions of healthier fats -- can be made in the field with the benefit of relatively inexpensive laboratory equipment. In this way, each region ensures it has strains that will produce the most, and the best, cocoa.
With any luck, researchers will be able to balance out the stresses on the finicky cacao crop by applying what they've learned from the sequencing of the cacao tree genome.
But peak panic has only just begun. Click through the gallery to see what other resources are running out.