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Chocolate bite — El Niño-linked West Africa weather drives cocoa prices to record highs

Chocolate bite — El Niño-linked West Africa weather drives cocoa prices to record highs
Illustrative image: Easter Bunnies (photo: Pxhere) | Cocoa Beans (Photo: Dan McGarry/ Wikipedia)

Cocoa prices topped $9,000 a tonne this week, an almost four-fold spike in prices over the course of 12 months as the El Niño-linked drought, which followed a deluge, hit the crop in top producers Ivory Coast and Ghana.

If you’re buying chocolate bunnies for Easter this weekend, it might be best to stock up. The price of those rabbits is about to hop sky-high.

Prices for cocoa — the key ingredient for chocolate — this past week scaled record peaks above $9,000 a tonne. This time last year, cocoa was fetching $2,500 a tonne.

A perfect storm of extreme weather linked to the El Niño weather pattern has decimated the cocoa crop in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which account for a combined 60% of global production.

“In December 2023, both countries experienced intense rains that decimated cocoa yields; the wet conditions caused plants to rot with black pod disease. Total precipitation in West Africa was more than double the 30-year average for the time of year,” the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a UK-based non-profit, said in a report this week.

“However, these wet conditions were swiftly followed by droughts typical of El Niño in February 2024. This decimated yields as cocoa is a drought-sensitive crop. In a shock to the system, farmers went from having too much water to not enough.”

Prices in March climbed 60% alone this month as buyers and traders scramble to source supplies.

Mining.com noted that at over $9,000 a tonne, cocoa is more expensive than copper.

In South Africa, where copper cable theft is rife, this might present local criminal syndicates with a lucrative new income stream: chocolate-in-transit heists.

El Niño has also scorched South Africa’s agricultural sector.

South Africa’s maize production is forecast by the Crop Estimates Committee to fall over 19% in 2024 to 13.255 million tonnes because of an El Niño-inspired drought that set in in February.

El Niño is a natural pattern, but human-made climate change such as the burning of fossil fuels is making it and its polar opposite, La Niña, more extreme.

Triggered by a warming of surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific, El Niño is expected to fade by June, a year after the current event started.

But its legacy will unfold for many more months. Cocoa and by extension chocolate prices will likely remain elevated for the foreseeable future. An almost four-fold increase in 12 months can only be passed onto consumers if producers are going to make a viable profit.

Consumers may still be feeling the bite come Christmas and maybe even on Valentine Day’s 2025.

That might be good for waistlines, but the bottom lines of many businesses in the chocolate supply and retail chain are going to melt. DM

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  • Shaun Slayer says:

    Funny how you make no mention of the child labor on these cocoa farms and the impact there way of living has on the global price of chocolate.

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