Envisioning a Future for Cacao Amid a Changing Climate
By Josh Staab on April 26, 2019 in Food and Agriculture
There's something about that first satisfying snap into a bite of chocolate that can transport a person somewhere like no other candy can. From the tropical regions that grow cacao to the companies that produce the confections we see in the store, that chocolate had to make a journey of its own, as well. Farmers and scientists from around the world will soon be able to connect at UC Davis to ensure growing a fragile bean into one of the world’s most prolific foods endures for generations to come.
UC Davis students and experts are working to better understand cacao, a vital ingredient necessary not only to chocolate production, but to many people across the world. A part of the pursuit is sharing knowledge to better understand the complex challenges and issues in the wide world of chocolate production.
As diverse as cacao is, so too, is the research surrounding it at UC Davis.
“We’re so used to going to our local grocery store, buying a bar of chocolate that is produced in North America or Europe and feeling that distance from where the cacao is actually growing, which tends to be in tropical regions of the world, typically north and south of the equator,” said geography graduate student Madeline Weeks. Weeks studies the social, economic and environmental dimensions of fine flavors of cacao and chocolate. Before starting her graduate studies, she spent two months living in Belize and Guatemala, interviewing smallholder cacao farmers, independent growers who oversee small plots of land and sell to Maya Mountain Cacao and Cacao Verapaz.
Cacao is a heritage food of Guatemala, so Weeks wanted to focus the project on specialty markets to highlight the unique quality of the cacao the smallholder producers grew and export it to the international market. Weeks partnered with the Guatemalan NGO, Fundación ProPetén to support production and commercialization of cacao in Southern Petén.
The project had two goals: On the one hand it was empowering these communities to export their own cacao. “But the other very important aspect of the project was actually getting the women involved,” Weeks said.