Valentine’s Food For Thought: How Weather & Climate Impact Chocolate

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Chocolate.. it’s something we all know and love on Valentine’s Day. Many of us, including myself, have already started to indulge. But did you know….ocean circulations, that’s right ocean circulations, can be key to healthy yields of the cocoa crop.

“This room and what you see behind me is something that I’m really proud of and a lot of work to import these beans”  says Shawn Askinosie, CEO and Founder, Askinosie Chocolate.

Cocoa beans that is!

Askinosie Chocolate takes pride in working with local farmers in the Philippines, Tanzania, and Ecuador to source their beans and they get a first hand look at how weather and climate impact your favorite chocolate treat.

Shawn Askinosie, a former criminal lawyer turned bean-to-bar chocolatier has been visiting cocoa farmers around the world for the past 11 years.

175 lbs of beans roasted a day

3,000 bars out the door in a shift

“They harvest by taking the pod off the tree, breaking the pod, pulling the beans out of the pod, fermenting the beans, then drying them in the sun, then bagging them up  like what you see here” says Askinosie.

The cocoa plant is sensitive, making it vulnerable to small changes in weather and climate.

Extremes make conditions unfavorable…”And so the wet/ dry rapid cycling is what’s causing the problem” says Askinosie, to the point where the cocoa crop cannot thrive.

What causes this wet to dry cycling? One thing is shifts between El Nino and La Nina.

Another cause, research indicates climate change also disturbs historically stable weather patterns.

Let’s back up… What’s El Nino and La Nina?

During El Nino warm Pacific Ocean waters push east towards South America, leaving fuel for more rain storms over the South American coast.
Cooler waters and drier atmosphere conditions are then left on the flip side over the Philippines.

La Nina is generally the opposite. Cold Pacific Ocean waters push east towards South America, leaving warmer water and more fuel for rain storms over the Philippines.

“So if we have an El Nino it’s going to be fine, there’s not going to be too much rain we’re getting a good crop, it’s dry. But if we have a La Nina which is what’s happening now, then we’re going to have too much moisture, too much rain, it’s going to be too cold” explains Askinosie.

Askinosie says most of these places don’t have the tools to steer excess water out of farmlands. The beans also need to be dried out in the the sun once harvested.

Another problem? Warming temperatures. Remember the cocoa crop is sensitive, it will not be able to withstand just a few degrees of warming.

“It will be a tragedy and we’re going to see a migration worldwide in this equator band…farmers will be forced to migrate north and south to cooler temperatures where those crops will now thrive” says Askinosie.

West Africa currently supplies 70% of the world’s chocolate.

But experts say by the year 2050, West Africa will be too hot, and too dry to produce chocolate on this scale.  It could lose up to half of its potential crop.

Researchers and large scale corporate cocoa are making big efforts to save chocolate by finding a way to make it stronger in our changing climate.

“The only thing that gives me hope is that in my little way, in our little company of 16 people, we’re going to do what we can to help farmers through this and have relationship with them, have community development projects with them, bring students from Springfield to visit them… we’re going to do what we can… and that gives me hope”  says Askinosie.

And the end product…it smells so good!

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