(NaturalNews) The era of cheap chocolate may soon come to an end as many cocoa farmers in West Africa -- which represents the largest cocoa-growing region in the world -- continue to leave the business. Pest problems, low pay, and a difficult growing cycle, have together taken much of the incentive out of growing cocoa, sending many natives to the city centers for better opportunities.
According to a recent report in The Independent, experts predict that within two decades, chocolate prices could be so high as a result of shortages that most people will be unable to afford it. And within six years, some analysts predict that cocoa prices will double, making it the most expensive it has been in 30 years.
"In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar," said John Mason, executive director and founder of Nature Conservation Research Council, to The Independent. "It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
Cocoa trees are known to die off every few years, requiring farmers to replant them. Typically, cocoa farmers end up having to move to an entirely new plot of land, replant the trees, and wait up to five years for a new cocoa crop to mature. But cocoa farmers generally receive very little pay for this intense work, so to many it is hardly worth it to even bother with cocoa when other industries like rubber offer far greater incentives.
"Chocolate consumption is increasing faster than cocoa production -- and it's not sustainable," said Tony Lass, chairman of the Cocoa Research Association, at the annual conference of Britain's Academy of Chocolate. "These smallholders earn just 80 cents a day, so there is no incentive to replant trees when they die off, and to wait up to five years for a new crop, and no younger generation around to do the replanting. The children of these African cocoa farmers ... are heading for the cities rather than undertake backbreaking work for such a small reward."
Fortunately, farmers grow chocolate in other areas such as South America, Asia, and the Caribbean, where standards are higher and the pay is better. Many of them are involved in cooperatives that work out fair trade agreements with their buyers, and some groups are working towards implementing similar fair trader programs in Africa to ensure that farmers there also receive a fair wage, and that cocoa production continues.