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11 March 2011

Chocolate is Dangerous to More than Your Waistline

The disputed presidential election has finally started to go to the 'blood diamonds' of Côte d'Ivoire: cocoa, better known in its dessert form, of chocolate. For what is happening politically, check here. I'm instead going to quickly check up on weather forecasts in terms of what that might mean for next seasons cocoa crop and what parallels this situation draws from Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The model that had been forecasting dry weather in the Gulf of Guinea region has changed its tune. The model is a statistical model focused exclusively on the relationship between sea surface temperatures and onshore precipitation. The rainfall in Côte d'Ivoire is very dependent on the sea surface temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean. With the south Atlantic turning very warm, helping to send an excessive amount of moisture into Angola and Namibia, a more typical season is expected later this year in Côte d'Ivoire. Other long-term models are showing similar trends. Air temperatures across the Gulf of Guinea (as well as the Sahel) look to be favoring normal, to slightly cooler than normal during the wet season.

That is only one piece of the puzzle, however. The poor rainy season in parts of Ecuador will help limit, although not too seriously, the availability of chocolate. Realistically, it is Côte d'Ivoire that feeds the worlds chocolate addiction. The economy of Côte d'Ivoire is highly dependent on cocoa, exporting about 1.33 million metric tons of cocoa a year. That is nearly twice the 0.74 million metric tons of the next biggest producer, Ghana, according to FAO STAT. Whoever controls the Côte d'Ivoire government stands to profit a lot from the sale of cocoa- that is why the presidency is so important in Côte d'Ivoire.

If exports are halted, or even slowed, the price of chocolate products around the world will go up. Ghana's economy would see substantial growth as it's neighbor, Côte d'Ivoire, would experience an economic collapse, due to the high dependence on the cash crop. Farmers, militia and the Côte d'Ivoire government could easily get around problems shipping cocoa out of Côte d'Ivoire, by instead shipping it illegally out of Ghana and labeling it "product of Ghana". This makes Ghana anything but an innocent bystander in regional relations, Ghana could seriously profit from a war in Côte d'Ivoire.

It is well known that the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia were paid for by the sale of diamonds through neighboring countries. Cocoa did the same thing in the Ivorian Civil War, and could do so once again as the country continues to destabilize. The chocolate bars bought in stores could fuel and fund a war.

*Note: Despite similar names 'cocoa' is not the same as 'coca' which is used to make cocaine.

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