The optimum altitude for cocoa is 300 to 800 feet above sea level, which will increase to 1,475 to 1,640 feet above sea level by 2050 due to climate change, according to a September 2011 study published by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
"Long term, the farmer can't do anything," Laderach said. "You need universities, you need research."
You need drought-resistant cocoa trees, he added.
Can genetic modification come to the rescue?
Genetic engineering and selective breeding are rallying cries among conservationists, politicians and industry leaders. The international community has firmly placed its faith in science.
It's not an unfounded confidence. Researchers have achieved similar feats with the technology: cows that produce more milk, fish that thrive in freezing conditions. Temperature-resilient cocoa trees are certainly possible -- but they're not available now.
Cocoa trees require about five years of growth to reach maturity, according to the WCF. It could take the scientific community decades to produce a viable cocoa hybrid, Ndiaye said. By the time these plants pass rigorous testing, undergo mass production and are shipped to their intended recipients, it's likely that cocoa shortages will already be a problem for Mars Inc. and Nestle SA -- two of the world's largest chocolate manufacturing companies.
Scientists must also take pests and cocoa-specific diseases into account when designing the ideal cocoa tree. As temperatures rise and stress the cocoa trees, the plants become more susceptible to pathogens.
"About a third of the crop is lost each year to diseases and pests," said Bill Guyton, the president of the WCF. "When the plant is more stressed, there's more of a risk factor of diseases or pests."
Even if scientists were able to present a modified cocoa tree today, there's no guarantee West Africans would immediately benefit from the technology.
"The biggest challenge that we have is that there are so many small-scale farmers living in remote areas, so access to these farmers is a big challenge," Guyton said. "And another big problem is that very few of them are organized; less than 20 percent belong to some sort of cooperative or organization, so it makes it difficult to work with them."
Furthermore, most locals can't afford to replant -- just 1 hectare of cocoa trees costs at least $1,000, a figure that does not include fertilizer and other tools needed to care for the saplings, Ndiaye said.
Some ugly consequences
Such logistical hang-ups appear to leave West Africans unprepared for future climatic changes. And the consequences of such vulnerability are more dire than a spike in American chocolate prices.
"There've been large-scale efforts; cocoa has been used as an alternative livelihood project to wean farmers off [growing] cocaine," Emanuel said.
Take away cocoa, and agriculturalists may resort to coca, the plant base of cocaine, which could result in a variety of domestic and international complications -- drug trafficking, violence, and all the costs and resources associated with outreach and intervention.
Food riots are also likely, Ndiaye said. As the climate warms, crop yields for staples could decline. The first response from governments and businesses will be to import, he added, affecting trade balance and driving up prices.
Cocoa provides 7.5 percent of the gross domestic product in Ivory Coast and 3.4 percent of the GDP in Ghana, according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture's study. Cocoa farmers, already strapped for cash, may not be able to afford the cost spike in food essentials.
"There would be huge implications for poverty levels in Africa; that's why it's really important to maintain cocoa in this area," Laderach said.