Wellington: Chocoholics might want to stock up on chocolate after they read this – experts have claimed that in the next few decades, an average man will simply not be able to afford chocolate.
"In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won``t be able to afford it," The New Zealand Herald quoted John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, as saying.
Farmers in the countries that produce the bulk of cocoa do not get incentives for the time-consuming work of replanting as their trees die off - a task that usually means moving to a new area of canopied forest and waiting three to five years for a new crop to mature.
The children of these African cocoa farmers, whose life expectancy is only 56, therefore prefer working in cities than undertaking backbreaking work for such a small reward.
“The other challenge is that cocoa is competing for agricultural space with other commodities like palm oil - which is increasingly in demand for biofuels," explained Thomas Dietsch, research director of ecosystem services at the Earthwatch Organisation.
"Chocolate consumption is increasing faster than cocoa production - and it``s not sustainable," Tony Lass, chairman of the Cocoa Research Association, told the annual conference of Britain``s Academy of Chocolate last month.
To make matters worse, the soil in Africa``s traditional cocoa fields is rapidly becoming depleted.
"Production will have decreased within 20 years to the point where we won``t see any more cheap bars in vending machines - unless they are made with carob instead of chocolate," said London chocolatier Marc Demarquette.
But some believe that chocolate lovers will save the chocolate industry from extinction by paying whatever it takes for the good stuff.
A spokesman from Cadburys suggested that scarcity might be averted through Fair Trade initiatives.
"It`s hard to imagine a world without a demand for chocolate, but whether it remains the low-cost snack food it is now may well change in time," said Earthwatch`s Dietsch.