Cocoa -- one of West Africa's most important cash crops and one of the Western world's guiltiest pleasures -- will be greatly affected by climate change, a new study says.

More than half of the world's chocolate is sourced from Ghana and Ivory Coast, or Côte d'Ivoire, where the cocoa-growing topography will be very different by 2050, according to the study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

"There will be areas that remain suitable for cocoa, but only when the farmers adapt their agronomic management to the new conditions the area will experience. There will also be areas where suitability of cocoa increases," states the study. "Climate change brings not only bad news but also a lot of potential opportunities. The winners will be those who are prepared for change and know how to adapt."

Farmers can begin to see declines in cocoa production by 2030, says the report. The suitable regions, located within 300 kilometers from the coast, will shrink considerably. Production is likely to concentrate in the cooler Eastern and Ashanti highland regions in Ghana, as well as the 18 Montagnes region in Ivory Coast.

Most importantly, the decline in cocoa production will uncover the fragility of farmers' reliance on a single crop to make a living.

Threatening farmers' 'ATM machines'
"Many of these farmers use their cocoa trees like ATM machines," said Peter Laderach, the report's lead author. "They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life."

Diversification into more heat-resistant crops is key, states the study. The authors recommend oranges, oil palm and cashew as possible alternatives. The report also recommends better shading for cocoa plants, access to new varieties of seeds and better prevention of brush fires.

The study is the first of three from the center, which are funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As an ultimate result of lower supply, cocoa farming is likely to shift to a higher-quality commodity, said Rodney North, spokesman for Equal Exchange, a provider of fair trade chocolate.

"You want to be growing the high-quality stuff," said North. "As supplies dwindle, it will be more important to have a quality strategy rather than a volume strategy."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500