Safety measures being used to contain Ebola in West Africa are also putting the world’s chocolate supplies and thousands of cocoa-farming jobs at risk. Back in August, Ivory Coast, home to a third of the world’s cocoa, closed its borders with Liberia and Guinea, a precaution that’s greatly benefited the country — which hasn’t suffered even one outbreak of Ebola so far — but Politico reports one big side effect is that a lot of the cocoa industry’s workforce is now shut out just as harvest season begins. Cocoa prices, which were inching up anyhow, have subsequently crept beyond their already elevated level, hitting $3,400 a ton a few weeks ago, and could go higher still.
The picture is bleak: Roadblocks are necessary to limit the spread of the disease, but they also limit traffic, impairing farming operations. “The land has not been tilled to plant,” one U.N. official explains. “The next crop will not be ready. We won’t have one, and we see a food crisis already.” And the epidemic goes beyond simply making chocolate. Giant Swiss manufacturer Barry Callebaut relays the news that it can’t buy cocoa beans from some middlemen in West Africa anymore because it’s simply “lost contact.” (The company now educates farmers in remote villages on safety precautions.)
In response, the World Cocoa Foundation hopes to collect donations from companies such as Nestlé and Marks for its “Coca Industry Response to Ebola Initiative,” which the group will reportedly unveil Wednesday at its annual meeting. Money will fund work being done by Red Cross and Caritas Internationalis.