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It’s almost Valentine’s Day and Americans are expected to spend around seven hundred million dollars on chocolate. We consume almost three billion pounds of this sweet treat annually and we’re not alone. The world’s appetite for chocolate is increasing but the supply is under threat. Plant scientists are working to fortify the embattled cacao tree. Researchers at the USDA say we’re losing thirty to forty percent of the crops a year, due to fungal diseases, climate change and insufficient farming practices. On this month’s Environmental Outlook, Diane and her panel of experts look at what’s threatening the world’s cocoa supply.
An article in February’s Scientific American said the world’s cocoa supply is under threat. For this month’s Environmental Outlook and in time for Valentine’s Day, Diane and some chocolate experts look at what is happening to the cacao tree and the environmental and social factors affecting the cacao supply.
The Most Serious Threats
“The single most important threat to cocoa going forward and the tree, theobroma cacao, is that it is essentially undomesticated and the pool of knowledge that we use to improve crops like maize, corn or soy or wheat or other crops…is almost barren compared to these other crops,” Schmitz said. At present, there is not a shortage of cocoa, but Schmitz said the problem is more one of “large origins.” In the 1980s, Brazil was on its way to becoming the world’s leading supplier of cocoa, but the supply there was wiped out almost overnight. Currently, 60 to 70 percent of the world’s supply comes from a small West African region, primarily in Ghana. If a similar disease issue or pest issue or climate change issue were to strike that region, Schmitz said, the answer to whether we have enough
chocolate would be very different.
Mapping The Cacao Tree Gene
There has been a global effort toward mapping the genome of the cacao tree. “The genome is like any additional tool. It gives us more background information that we can go back and look at. There’s a number of teams around the world that are doing the research but the point is most of the
growing countries are in the developing world. And so they don’t have the research or the cutting edge technology that we in the developed nations can actually provide,” Meinhardt said. Some of the genome-mapping was done by Mars, who shared the information on the web. It was important to Schmitz to put that information in to the public domain, where the smartest plant scientists in the world could easily access it, he said.
Helping Farmers With Production
Cacao is a crop that requires a lot of labor, Peck said. The World Cocoa Foundation is running programs that help farmers in growing regions, teaching them how to use more tools and techniques to be more productive. “We need to create more educational opportunities in rural Africa through our programs,” Peck said. “And in combination with the USDA, we’re doing that.” Basic literacy, agricultural knowledge, leadership skills and vocational educational opportunities are some of the areas of focus.
Diane Tastes The Testing Kit Chocolate
Diane had the chance to taste some of the chocolate that Schmitz brought in – each tiny piece labeled by country of origin and contained in a small plastic bag. Sounding a bit like a fine wine expert, Schmitz said Ghana is the “heartland of chocolate flavor.” He said the taste should include a “rich chocolate base” with some “light bright notes.” This kind of chocolate, Schmitz said, commands a price premium because of its complexity of flavor. Diane also tasted Jamaican and Ecuadorian chocolate, and then, the final piece – a foil-wrapped piece of commercial Dove chocolate that combines the blending of the previous three.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. I do adore chocolate, that's why I was struck by an article in February's Scientific American that said the cocoa supply is under threat. For this month's environmental outlook and in time for Valentine's Day, we look at what is happening to the cacao tree.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio is Harold Schmitz of Mars Inc. who co-authored the article titled "The Future of Chocolate," Robert Peck, of the World Cocoa Foundation and Lyndel Meinhardt of the USDA. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MR. HAROLD SCHMITZGood morning.
MR. ROBERT PECKGood morning.
MR. LYNDEL MEINHARDTGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. I wonder, Harold Schmitz, let me start with you and get you to talk about what is happening to the cocoa supply.
SCHMITZSure, Diane, thanks for having me on. If I could just briefly read a quote from 1633, it will set the stage for us.
SCHMITZIn 1633, the sum total knowledge of cocoa was the following. "The cacao is a fruit well known in diverse parts of America for they, in some places, use it instead of money and to make a drink of which, though bitter, they highly esteem. The trees which bear them are but small, having long, narrow leaves and will only grow well in places shadowed from the sun."
SCHMITZThat quote is so interesting because it was written in 1633. There is so much in there about the value, the cultural value of cocoa, how deeply it was thought of in the cultures that were in America at that time. But also, and this is really the future of cocoa and the environmental outlook that we recently wrote about, not that much has actually changed with regards to the cultivation of cocoa, the understanding of how best to grow it and the understanding of how to deal with issues like climate change, pest and disease and other things that will threaten the crop going forward.
REHMSo what would you regard as the most serious threat to the cacao tree right now?
SCHMITZSo I think personally, and my co-author, Howard Shapiro, would agree, the single most important threat to cocoa going forward and the tree, theobroma cacao, is that it is essentially undomesticated and the pool of knowledge that we use to improve crops like maize, corn or soy or wheat or other crops that we all know of that are so important to the world's food supply, that toolbox of knowledge, that is with cocoa, is almost barren compared to these other crops.
REHMI see, I see.
SCHMITZAnd so the biggest threat is that. So whether it is climate change and drought that may strike or rising temperatures or a different pest or disease or whatever, all of those can be dealt with if we have the toolbox of knowledge filled.
REHMBut is there, right now, a shortage and is there a dying off of these trees?
SCHMITZSo that's a great question and you'll have to bear with me for a complex answer slightly. Number one, there is not, at present, a shortage of cocoa. The supply slightly exceeds or at least meets demand. However, the issue is that we have seen large origins.
SCHMITZSo for example, Brazil in South America, which at one time was on its way to becoming the world's leading supplier of cocoa, in the late 1980s was almost entirely wiped out, literally almost overnight. So we have seen this very fragile, you know, essentially undomesticated crop have regional issues that would be termed as catastrophic. And if I may say one last point, at this point in time, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the world's cocoa comes from a small region in West Africa, primarily Ghana, and what used to be termed the Ivory Coast, but is Cote d'Ivoire.
SCHMITZIf a similar disease issue or pest issue or climate change issue were to strike that region then my answer of, do we have enough cocoa could be very different.
REHMHarold Schmitz, he's chief science officer of Mars Inc., co-author of the article "The Future of Chocolate" in February's Scientific American. Now we've talked about, Robert Peck, where the current supply of cacao comes from, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, but I gather the rest is pretty much throughout South America?
PECKGood morning, Diane, and thank you so much for the invitation on behalf of the World Cocoa Foundation and our members. West Africa is a key origin in general and Harold mentioned Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, but there is also Nigeria, Liberia and Cameroon. And among those countries, we can say roughly 70 percent of the supply of cocoa is from those five countries.
PECKThe remaining countries that contribute to the global supply of cocoa are South East Asia, mainly Indonesia. And the South East Asian region contributes roughly, let's say, 18 to 19 percent of the cocoa supply chain. And the remaining 10 to 11 percent is the Americas and hopefully throughout the conversation today, we will be able to hear from Lyndel or from Howard more about the genetic diversity in the Americas and why the Americas produce a very different kind of cocoa and very different sources of genetic materials and a great potential for the future of the industry.
REHMRobert Peck, he is senior director of operations for the World Cocoa Foundation. And turning to you, Lyndel Meinhardt, how difficult a tree is the cacao to grow?
MEINHARDTThank you for the invitation, Diane. First of all, it's a tropical tree so it has to be grown in the tropics and it is typically grown in the shade and it can be quite a bit. You have to realize it takes five to seven years from planting the seed before you actually start harvesting the pods.
REHMAnd I'm looking at a seed right here?
REHMOkay, sort of a bean size, large bean size...
REHM...with a very firm exterior. And one seed for one tree?
MEINHARDTTypically, the pod, which will take anywhere from five to six months to be from flower to pod which looks like basically the size of a football, will have anywhere from 35 to 45 beans inside the pod itself. And once those pods are opened, harvested and opened, those beans, that whole mass, the beans are covered with a mucous mass. And then, that material is fermented in order to start the flavor process. Before the fermentation, you do not have the chocolate flavor. The fermentation, drying and roasting steps, as well as conching and the various other ways that the industry processes the beans, actually develops all of the chocolate flavors.
REHMAnd we do have pictures of the tree and the beans on our website at drshow.org. I gather that there is a mosquito-size moth that's giving these beans some problems?
MEINHARDTThere is. That's in the, I believe, in South East Asia, in Indonesia and the entire growing region in South East Asia. There is a cocoa pod borer which, actually, the small moth burrows into the pod and lays its eggs. Its larvae then commence to chew up the beans on the inside leaving a -- it ruins the actual beans and the bean mass. So it basically leaves the pod on the tree, but when you harvest it, you don't have a -- very, very few actually useable beans from that mass.
REHMAnd that is the voice of Lyndel Meinhardt. He's research leader at the USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab. If you'd like to join us as we talk about chocolate, the cocoa supply, the cacao tree, do join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Are these diseases that you talk about, can they be treated or are they something that is being perennially fought against?
MEINHARDTA lot of -- typically, we lose anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of our annual production to the diseases. The majority of the losses are due to fungal diseases around the world. As Harold alluded to, some of the real problems in South America, in Central America are mainly the fungal plant diseases. South East Asia is mainly the insect pest and Africa has a combination of both.
REHMOkay. So you heard me say I adore chocolate. How worried should I be about the cocoa supply, the cacao tree and whether I'm going to be able to pick up a Mars bar?
MEINHARDTThere's a lot of work being done every year to try to address those issues, but we are talking about a tree crop so any process, breeding process, changes that we're looking at are long-term changes, five to seven years or so. And so it's not a quick turnaround if the disease problem becomes very advanced so we're constantly trying to push the envelope to try to get the better genetics, the better flavors, the better trees out there, but it is a long-term process.
REHMLyndel Meinhardt of the USDA, Robert Peck of the World Cocoa Foundation and Harold Schmitz of Mars Inc., we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, your calls, your comments, I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the future of chocolate. And all that begins with the cocoa bean, the cacao tree and we've got three experts here to talk about both the past and the future of chocolate. Harold Schmitz is chief science officer of Mars, Inc. He co-wrote an article on "The Future of Chocolate" in February's Scientific American. Robert Peck is senior director of operations of the World Cocoa Foundation. Lyndel Meinhardt is research leader for the USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab.
REHMI look forward to hearing your calls. First, turning back to you, Harold Schmitz, what about climate change and to what extent is that having an effect on crops?
SCHMITZWell, so beginning in the early 1950s in West Africa, so down in Cote d'Ivoire, we started monitoring rainfall as well as temperature from a Mars perspective. And what we saw was that in the cocoa-growing regions rainfall was in fact decreasing and temperature was slightly increasing. And the sweet spot is unfortunately moving away from optimal growing conditions for cocoa.
SCHMITZMore formally the international panel on climate change in 2007 -- and we discussed this in the Scientific American article -- has noted that crops will -- the ranges where crops are optimally grown in Africa right now will actually be shifting in the coming decades. And cocoa is very sensitive to this. And in certain origins like South America you can move uphill so to speak. And so you can find the right temperature bands and possibly the right moisture bands. But in West Africa there sort of is no uphill. It's basically more of a flat plain type of geography. And so that could cause some significant issues there.
REHMSo to you, Robert Peck, how does the World Cocoa Foundation get into issues like climate change and are you monitoring, are you reporting? What is your focus?
PECKDiane, challenging situations require holistic approaches. And that's what World Cocoa Foundation and its members try to address in the cocoa supply chain. And it is not one company effort or a government effort. It is a collective effort of government institutions, research institutions, the industry. And in cocoa supply chain where we have five to six million farmers around the world, it requires a lot of collaboration, a lot of joint efforts in addressing these issues. And climate change is one of them.
PECKDiversification of crops is a key message that we try to bring to farmers. In cocoa tree, as explained earlier, thrives on their shading conditions, thrives with other crops. So it enables farmers to diversify their incomes just as you diversify your assets. And we want farmers to do that and cocoa grows better under those conditions. So some agricultural practices are very helpful in addressing some of these complex issues. But there's no silver bullet in response for a fungal disease or climate change or other issues affecting this critical crop in the world.
REHMThere has been, I gather, Lyndel Meinhardt, more than one team that has tracked the genes of the cacao tree. Who's doing this research and what have you learned?
MEINHARDTDiane, there's been really a more of a global effort toward doing the genomes. There's been the two different groups, but they were looking at two different types of cacao. That's been a wonderful asset to add because we've been able to look at the two extremes of the diversity of the cacao that we have. And now we can do those comparisons and start looking at what makes the two different and what makes them similar so we can actually build upon the research.
MEINHARDTThe genome is like any additional tool. It gives us more background information that we can go back and look at. There's a number of teams around the world that are doing the research but the point is most of the growing countries are in the developing world. And so they don't have the research or the cutting edge technology that we in the developed nations can actually provide. So we're trying to augment what they're doing with some of our expertise. And we're trying to work this together in a very collaborative way.
REHMAnd, Harold Schultz (sic) , I know that mapping of the genome was done, some of it done by Mars. It was put on the web for anyone to look at. Has anything happened as a result?
SCHMITZYeah, so the approach we took -- and this goes back to the earlier comments on building the toolbox of knowledge -- so in 2007, a collaborative effort was initiated with USDA/ARS, as well as IBM and their fantastic computational biology group and Mars and several others. And the effort was fully funded by Mars because we needed it to get done. That was our view at the time. There needed to be a threshold change.
SCHMITZAnd the other key decision that we took at that time, which we understand to be either rare or unique to this point, is that from a privately funded genome effort for such a high value crop is that we wanted to ensure that all of the sequence information was put into the public domain.
SCHMITZThe reason for that is that it was our view that number one, we were doing this because our objective was to have the smartest people in agriculture science work on cacao. That is the mission critical objective. And by holding that information back by attempting to patent it or allow others to patent it or, you know, try and commercialize it at that stage, it would've prevented the smartest plant scientists from around the world from accessing it.
SCHMITZAnd then secondly, as was mentioned by Bob and Lyndel earlier, it's just so critical to understand in our developed world status where people are probably listening to this radio program, that this is a developing world crop. And for the toolbox to be useful it must be put into the domain of the developing world where the crop is grown. And to do that it was important to put it into the public domain and provide free access.
SCHMITZAnd then to answer directly your question is anything happening, the answer is yes. And we did mention this in the article as well is that now that the sequence is in the public domain there have been the other efforts that Lyndel also referred to. What we now have is we have a roadmap. It's difficult to know where to go when you don't have a map. Now, the world of cacao science has a map in the form of this genetic sequence.
SCHMITZAnd so when we find trees and investigators find trees that have resistance to certain diseases or have resistance to draught or something like that, we can find those trees. We can understand those trees genetically and map them onto these sequence assemblies, and by doing that we can massively accelerate the breeding program. So the answer is, yes we're now able to start doing that and we're able to already see accelerated breeding programs to put better stronger trees in the hands of farmers.
REHMNow we've already had several new emails from people around the country asking about slave labor and its use to harvest the cocoa bean. And, Robert Peck, I wonder what your response to that is.
PECKThank you, Diane. I would say that the terminology slave labor is a little bit sensational in a ways. There are issues with child labor and there's issues with worst forms of child labor in agriculture in developing worlds.
REHMEspecially in West Africa.
PECKEspecially in West Africa, but also on other continents. And cocoa is one of those sectors where child labor is present. And I think World Cocoa Foundation has a stand and its members are committed in the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.
PECKThrough partnerships. We must understand that this is not something that one company or one industry can face by itself. We need to work together with the governments, in governments that have their own laws, their own procedures, their own systems of monitoring labor situations in their countries. So this needs to be working hand in hand with the governments of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire specifically.
REHMBut how realistic is that, for example in a place such as Nigeria where war has certainly broken out in pockets of the country. How does that effect what children are asked or made to do?
PECKRight. I think another big distinction, Diane, in addressing that is what's appropriate and inappropriate activities at a farm level in child labors, per se, here in the U.S. or in the Andean regions. It's a way of life and all of these farms are family farms of three to four acres, very small farms. And cacao is a tree, a crop that requires a lot of labor. Everything is labor driven. You planted the seedling by hand. You prune it every year by hand. You harvest it by hand. As Lyndel was explaining, you break the pod by hand. You ferment it by hand.
PECKAnd once it leaves the farm, then you'll see transportation by vehicles or motorcycles. And then, there's other mechanization, but that's after it has left the farm. At the farm, there's a lot of labor required. And so it's very important to identify what's appropriate and inappropriate practices.
REHMWhen you talk about appropriate, inappropriate practices -- and, of course, Harold Schmitz, Mars, Inc. would be at the receiving end of all this. But what can you do to shut down these farms that utilize child labor to retrieve this product?
PECKI think a lot can be done, Diane, and that's what World Cocoa Foundation is doing through some of our programs. World Cocoa Foundation has been very fortunate to create partnerships with different (word?) institutions and with the U.S. government, with the Cote d'Ivoire government and Ghana government. And in these programs we need to help farmers become more productive, teaching them more tools and more techniques to be better and more efficient in their land.
PECKFarmers cannot continue farming cocoa producing 400 to 500 kilograms per acre. And farmers need to be made much more aware of agricultural practices that improve their yields. And we need to create more educational opportunities in the rural Africa through our programs. And in combination with the USDA, we're doing that. Basic literacy, ag. knowledge, leadership skills and vocational educational opportunities.
REHMRobert Peck of the World Cocoa Foundation and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers. I'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Fayette, Ala. Good morning, Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELGood morning. Thanks so much for taking my call. I have two or three questions.
REHMI'll take one question, Michael.
MICHAELOh, oh, well, it's this. How much cocoa and chocolate that you and I daily purchase comes from -- I hate this word, but I can't think of any other -- peon-owned cooperatives? They're beautifully thought up and established by child sponsorship charities and I hope faith-based charities. (unintelligible) can we ordinary Americans do to, you know, to (word?) with better working conditions and human rights...
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Robert Peck.
PECKThat's a good question. In generally speaking, we would say that around 10 to 15 percent of the farmers out there in the world are organized in some form. The organization of farmers is a key aspect in the supply chain. And the industry and consumers cannot have five to six million farmers out there as individual units. We need great efforts to bring these farmers together, work jointly in some of the association or cooperative for better deals for them. Better deals of buying input, more leverage with selling their cocoa and grouping them makes a lot of business and opportunities for the whole community as well.
REHMAll right. to Waldorf, Md. Good morning, Jane, you're on the air.
JANEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
JANEI've heard that the difference between Swiss chocolate and America chocolate is due to the Swiss using African cacao and Americans using South American. So I was wondering if that was true. And I also have heard that when the early Europeans took cacao back to Europe, they mixed up the vowels and that's why we call it cocoa. I was wondering if...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. And to you, Harold.
SCHMITZIt's all right. I can respond to both of those questions. Number one, with respect to the types of cocoa used, so West Africa supplies the majority of cocoa, as we've talked about earlier and Bob alluded to. And West African cocoa is used throughout the world, whether it's America or Europe or other places. Really the difference is in chocolate quality and it's called taste sensations, comes down to a lot of other factors. And it's how you mix ingredients, the different blends that you might use from Africa, South America, et cetera, so a lot of different things. But all these cocoas are used around the world.
SCHMITZNow the name of cocoa and the mixing up of the vowels, I won't say that that's true. We had the opportunity to, during the last ten years, pursue writing the authoritative historical text on cocoa usage, both pre-Colombian as well as after contact with the Spanish and other Europeans. And it is absolutely fascinating the origin of the word cocoa and the way it is used in these cultures. And there's other reasons why cacao was taken -- that name and that spelling was taken back to Europe. But it was not because of sort of errors in mixing up vowels.
REHMAll right. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, John.
JOHNYes. Thank you for taking my call. I would like the person who was talking who's the (word?) of the cocoa union. I would like him to discuss the inequality of the compensation that cocoa farmers receive. Because the cocoa farmers are paid pennies, not even (unintelligible) penny for the dollar. This is the only industry where the farmer is not the one who sets the price. But the buyer ends up setting the price of how much they purchase the cocoa.
REHMAll right. Robert Peck.
PECKJohn, thank you for the question. We get the price question very often and that happens not only cocoa, but in any ag. commodity. And cocoa is a publicly traded commodity and traded in the stocks so it's free market. What is important is, how do we do to incentivize farmers to be more productive and more efficient in their farms, rather than concentrating on prices?
REHMI want to get back to that issue of pricing after we take a short break.
REHMAnd our last caller from Cameroon talked about the pennies that farmers make harvesting the cocoa. And the question becomes, Robert Peck, why is it that farmers cannot set their own prices? Why is it that buyers set the price for the cocoa?
PECKDiane, I think in some situations farmers, by producing better quality cocoa and more standard in types of cocoa, do get rewarded by better premiums on their cocoa and get better prices. And I think the pricing situation also varies between countries. Different countries have different supply chains. The logistics part of each country varies a lot. In some countries there are taxing systems that affect the prices that farmers get.
PECKSome of those taxes collected were invested into the countryside by their governments. In some countries, like in Ecuador, farmers are getting 85 percent of the global FOB prices for their cocoa produced at farm. So the pricing question goes back to which country are we talking about and what are the conditions of the country.
PECKThat's why I'd like to go back to the point, it's important for farmers to diversify their incomes, to be more productive in what at they're doing and be more productive growing cocoa as well.
REHMAll right. And to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Gary. You're on the air.
GARYHi. Thank you. Back to the child slave labor issue. I'm curious to know from the gentleman from the cocoa foundation to what extent larger farms and really, what sounds like globalization of the cocoa industry, is really the answer, to what extent that's an issue that's not necessarily widely -- a view that's not necessarily widely held. And how is the foundation funded? What are its interests?
PECKGreat. Thank you so much for that question. Ninety-five percent of the cocoa global supply is produced by small holders around the world, usually three to five hectares. So it's all family-owned farms. There's only a few producers in countries in Ecuador and in Southeast Asia where you see large tenants of growing cocoa -- and in Brazil. But it's 95 percent small holders that live off the farm and their family lives out of cocoa and other crops, hopefully.
PECKWorld Cocoa Foundation was created in the year 2000 by the chocolate and cocoa companies around the world to address the sustainability issue. So back then, in the year 2000, it was a reflection on what happened in Brazil to address the pest and diseases issues. And today, we're fortunate to have almost 90 companies from Japan, Europe, West Africa, Latin America and the U.S. that fund this organization on (word?) basis.
PECKWe're fortunate to have the USDA, USAID, and the Bill Gates Foundation and contributing partners to different programs that allows us to leverage resources and leverage knowledge to implement our programs in West Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
REHMAll right. To Dublin, N.H. Good morning, Russell.
RUSSELLGood morning. I'd love your panel's response to the following. In the mid-1950s, Ghana had a cocoa blight. And the British Colonial government, before independence, decided to wean farmers from a plant that was always being blighted by planting lemon and orange trees. And they persuaded a number of farmers to do this at a very low price. And then the fruit that was grown was not up to international standards and so it could not be sold in the international markets.
RUSSELLAnd the British government decided that it was cheaper to buy the fruit, to can it and then to bury it, then to allow all of these farmers, whom they had spoken to, to lose their fortunes and their sacred honor, et cetera.
REHMHarold Schmitz, do you know anything about this?
SCHMITZAnd I don't know anything in detail about it. I mean, I think it's a really interesting observation. In the world of neo-tropical agriculture and developing nations and crops being introduced and, you know, reintroduced and pulled out and the, let's call it, complexities that arise from that is a well-known story and, you know, with many, unfortunately, many, many different crops. But I don't know information specific to this.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call Russell. Here's a posting on Facebook from Ian who says, "As a chef who has experience in pastries, confectionaries, as well as an interest in sustainability, how does the cocoa industry look at the impact on the water supply of these countries? I recently watched a documentary called Flow, which talked about the water wars in Bolivia and West Africa. How does the cocoa industry help or hinder such causes?" Lyndel?
MEINHARDTThat's not really my area.
MEINHARDTI would probably have to pass it over to Harold.
REHMAll right. Go ahead, Harold.
SCHMITZI can talk a little bit about that. And my co-author in the Scientific American article, Howard Shapiro, has thought a lot about these issues and actually done a lot about these issues. It's really important, again, to go back to Robert's comment, cocoa is grown around the world in a variety of different countries with different geographies, different climates. So there are some countries, such as Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire and other places like that, where rainfall -- it rains a lot. It rains at the right time and everything works out without any thinking about it, really.
SCHMITZThere are other countries where droughts can play a role. Brazil occasionally had personal experience when droughts come through there. And of course water storage is important. There are other origins, like Vietnam, a developing origin where, you know, the rain -- although the overall rainfall is sufficient, it does not come necessarily at the right times. Therefore, if one is to grow cocoa successfully, one has to store the water properly.
SCHMITZAnd Howard actually has done a lot of work in terms of building water storage reservoirs so that the industry can be fueled with water in the right way. And then lastly there's the issue of flooding. So in Southeast Asia and Indonesia and particular recently we've seen more monsoon rains at the wrong time, which actually can be an issue in terms of cocoa productivity.
REHMI've been meaning to ask about wild cocoa trees. What's happening there?
SCHMITZThat's a great question. And Lyndel will probably want to also participate in the answer to this, but there's a gentleman by the name of Juan Carlos Montemayor, who works with -- he's a Mars scientist, but he works at USDA/ARS station in Miami. And Juan Carlos's work -- and he's published this work in a number of peer-reviewed journals. His focus is on finding the wild varieties of cocoa.
SCHMITZAnd this, in addition to being exotic and interesting, is crucial to our scientific and genetic toolbox because it's these different varieties or lines of cocoa that provide the genetic diversity from which we can pull.
REHMDo the chocolate taste different?
SCHMITZAnd so I will answer that question in just one moment. To finish the thought, there are these wild varieties that grow in the origin area, which is the upper reaches of the Amazon. And unfortunately, though, deforestation is happening. Almost certainly we are losing the germ plasma or this treasure...
SCHMITZ...that nature has given us over these thousands of years of survival. To this point, we know there are at least 10 different lines, if you will. Lyndel, I think, has done work to provide evidence for another. And then to answer your money question there, in terms of taste and sensory, these different lines are absolutely critical to the different flavors and varieties of cocoa and the blends that create people's favorite chocolate.
MEINHARDTAs part of our program, in 2008, we went up into the upper Amazon region of Peru and we were actually going along with collaborators to collect wild material. And actually go back 'cause part of the goal of one of our projects is actually look at the genetic diversity that's in the collections that are already being used, along with Juan Carlos Montemayor and also to look at where we don't have any material. And we were finding large regions in the upper Amazon region of Peru, in particular right now, where there was no collection.
MEINHARDTWe have no idea what material was there. So we were able to go without collaborators. And so far we've found an additional three to four new populations of wild cocoa that's not being utilized or if it's being utilized it's not really known about. It's just being...
MEINHARDT...mixed in with the regular.
REHMI see. Okay. I have in front of me, for all of our listeners to hear, three different chocolates from three different countries plus the Mars delicious Dove bar. Now, tell me about the first. I'm about to taste it.
SCHMITZAll right. So I want you to -- when you taste it...
SCHMITZ...I want you first to just smell it lightly. Don't sniff hard...
SCHMITZ...'cause this isn't wine or coffee.
SCHMITZAll right. And...
SCHMITZAnd what you should get out of that is a rich chocolate aroma.
SCHMITZNow I would like you to place it in your mouth...
SCHMITZ...and take a few bites to break it up, but then put it to the center of your tongue and let it melt. And what you should be tasting -- this is Ghana. So this is the heartland of chocolate flavor. It's what makes you swoon, Diane. When you think about chocolate it should be a rich chocolate base and there should be some light bright notes on it. And after you swallow it you should be left with a rich chocolate base that even after you swallow it, even after the instruments have stopped playing, the music lingers on in the symphony hall. And that is really...
SCHMITZ...is really the base of great chocolate. And this is so-called Ghana gold. And it's just...
SCHMITZ...a fantastic base for chocolate. And we should move on then.
REHMAnd how does that get packaged then and sold? Is it sold as Ghanaian chocolate?
SCHMITZSo in Ghana, it is often sold -- and Robert can refer to this, but it is often packaged and sold as Ghana Cocoa.
SCHMITZAnd it commands a certain price and premium because of the quality that you just tasted.
REHMAh, delicious. And the next?
SCHMITZThe next is from Jamaica.
SCHMITZAnd it's very important to think of this as the origin of the modern cocoa. So when the Spanish encountered cocoa, they didn't encounter what Lyndel mentioned a little bit earlier, back in the -- let's call it the hinterlands of the upper Amazon region. They encountered this cocoa in the Caribbean. And what you should be tasting is a much brighter, some fruity notes are in there, there is not that rich chocolate base.
SCHMITZRight? And when you swallow it -- and it should taste very good and interesting, a lot of counterpoint going on in there. But when you swallow it, the taste doesn't linger. It clears fairly quickly, but it's light...
SCHMITZ...it's bright and that was the cocoa that the Spanish then started to import around the world, first to Ghana and then, of course, Ghana evolved into what you tasted first. But that's the modern origin of cocoa.
REHMAnd the third?
SCHMITZThe third is really a very special cocoa. It is what we would call from the fine flavor regions of the world. It is from Ecuador. When you smell it, it will not be giving you much of an aroma at all.
SCHMITZHowever, put on your seatbelt because you're about to taste the strongest base, exotic, fine flavor notes of cocoa in the world. It's called Ecuadorian National Cocoa. And this is the cocoa that was blended by fine European chocolatiers beginning 100 or more years ago to really round out and give muscle and give this deep fruity floral, but a base of chocolate and cocoa in astringency to it. Now, that should have tasted very different from either of the first two. Did it?
REHMMay I tell you my favorite?
SCHMITZAll right. And that is not surprising, given...
SCHMITZ...that it is rich deep chocolate. Now, you need to taste the next one because what the next one represents is the...
REHMThe next one is the Dove.
REHMOh, my gosh.
SCHMITZAnd what the Dove represents is the blending of these different cocoas. And so, you know, you won't typically find a pure Ghanaian chocolate or a pure Ecuadorian, except in some of these fine, you know, chocolate shops. You will find these blends. And that blend should, A, give you a front note of vanilla, which was a Central American crop. And so that's sort of this Aztec/Mayan crop that's blended into the chocolate. And it hints at that wonderful history of chocolate before it was a bar, but it was a drink.
SCHMITZAnd then you should also, if you close your eyes a little bit, you should sink back into a very silky smooth position. And it should allow you to simply forget for a moment. It's really built on that rich chocolate base with a little bit of that Ecuadorian fine flavor across the top.
REHMAnd how wise to put -- and you can hear my mouth is filled -- how wise to put those Dove bars in those little tiny bites. Let me remind you you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And one last question from Maricopa, Ariz. Good morning, Paul. You're on the air.
PAULThank you very much for taking my call.
PAULMy question is, is there any country where chocolate is detested, the people absolutely cannot stand it? And if so, what country is that? And I'll listen, get my answer off the air.
SCHMITZI think there are only countries that are awaiting the journey and the experience of chocolate. I don't know of any that don't like it.
REHMIs there any concern among any of you that either the price of chocolate will go so high that ordinary people can't afford it? Will there always be chocolate available? Harold?
SCHMITZSo we titled our article, "The Future of Chocolate," and we had a very optimistic future to it. I'm a scientist. Howard's a scientist. The three on this panel represents science. And we really do believe that by bringing the smartest people in agriculture together, the future of chocolate will ensure a great supply of cocoa that will supply our needs at reasonable prices. And also bring us the health properties, in the form of cocoa, that the ancient Mayans and Aztecs enjoyed.
SCHMITZHowever, if we don't apply these tools of modern science, the future of chocolate could go back to that restricted version and none of us want that.
REHMHarold Schmitz of Mars, Inc., Robert Peck of the World Cocoa Foundation and Lyndel Meinhardt of the USDA, thank you for being here. Thank you for this divine chocolate. Thanks for your information.
SCHMITZThank you, Diane. It's been a real pleasure.
PECKThank you, Diane.
MEINHARDTThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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