Chocolate enthusiasts across the globe better brace themselves for a bitter pill to swallow. The world’s favourite sweet treat is on track to become significantly more expensive, thanks to a deepening crisis in the heart of cocoa production – West Africa.

Ghana and Ivory Coast, the undisputed powerhouses of cocoa, contributing over 60% of the global supply, are facing a disastrous harvest season. A “perfect storm” of factors, as described by Reuters after speaking to over 20 farmers and industry insiders, is wreaking havoc on crops.

Illegal gold mining is top of the list. These illicit operations are causing widespread deforestation, leaving swathes of previously fertile land unusable for cocoa cultivation. Janet Gyamfi, a cocoa farmer in western Ghana, tearfully recounted to Reuters how her once-thriving 27-hectare farm, “covered with nearly 6,000 cocoa trees,” has been ravaged by illegal miners, leaving behind “pools of cyanide-tainted, tea coloured waste water” and a mere dozen trees.

Climate change is another culprit. Erratic rainfall patterns and rising temperatures are impacting cocoa yields. Furthermore, a devastating plant virus, swollen shoot, is silently wiping out plantations. Ghana’s cocoa marketing board estimates a staggering 590,000 hectares are already infected.

The impact on consumers is undeniable. The price of cocoa futures in New York has already doubled this year, hitting record highs with no signs of slowing down. While some chocoholics may have noticed a recent 10% price hike on Easter treats, analysts warn the real pain is yet to come. Since chocolate manufacturers tend to hedge their cocoa purchases months in advance, the full brunt of the West African crisis is expected to hit supermarket shelves later in 2024.

“This is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences,” says Michael Appiah, a cocoa industry analyst based in Accra. “The human cost for West African farmers is immense, and consumers around the world will soon feel the pinch too. Sustainable solutions are urgently needed to address the root causes of this crisis, from curbing illegal mining to developing climate-resistant cocoa varieties.”

The future of chocolate remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: indulging in our favourite sweet treat may soon become a more expensive proposition.