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Businesses are prepping for a world without cacao and coffee beans

No one wants to live in a world without chocolate and coffee, but climate change is putting pressure on cocoa and coffee producers — making the nightmarish prospect a possibility in the not-too-distant future.

So businesses large and small are beginning to experiment with alternative ways to grow the beans . It’s another example of how climate change effects the everyday luxury items that are, indeed, the best part of waking up.

Earlier this month the massive agribusiness Cargill announced that it had entered into a research agreement with AeroFarms, a startup company doing indoor farming, to explore how cultivating beans indoors could be used to improve cocoa bean yields and develop more climate-resilient farming.

“Environmental challenges and growing demand for cocoa products are placing increased pressure on the global cocoa supply chain,” said Niels Boetje, managing director Cargill Cocoa Europe, in a statement.

AeroFarms has already grown 550 different crops, according to co-founder and chief executive David Rosenberg, and the company is starting to conduct research for the latest Cargill project at its Newark, NJ headquarters.

Those facilities are a long way from nations like the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, and Ghana, where much of the world’s cacao is produced. As Global Citizen noted global demand for chocolate has led to staggering levels of deforestation to meet increased demand and as climate change pushes farmers to look for areas where they can successfully grow their crops.

Cacao is very sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, which is bad news for chocolate lovers since climate change creates greater variability for both of those conditions.

So while AeroFarms and Cargill are looking for ways to grow their cacao inside — some early stage technology companies are trying to take the cacao bean out of the equation altogether.

These are very, very early-stage companies like QOA, a company that’s launching out of the startup incubator Y Combinator and California Cultured, which just emerged from the IndieBio accelerator.

Both of these companies are developing lab-grown or cultured options to traditional chocolates. Neither have signed any significant contracts or will have lots of production capabilities in the near future, but both hold out hope for the world to be able to continue its love affair with that sweet, sweet chocolate.

Coffee connoisseurs won’t be spared either. The beans behind almost everybody’s favorite morning brew are subject to the same pressures from climate change as cacao and things aren’t looking that great for their prospects.

That’s why companies like Atomo Coffee have stepped in to brew coffee without the beans.

The business uses ingredients like sunflower seed husks, watermelon seeds and other plant ingredients to make grinds that are treated with the company’s chemical process to simulate coffee — and they do it without the beans.

It’s a potential solution to the climate problem that bedevils the $100 billion coffee industry, as Bloomberg News reported earlier this year. Global warming is causing coffee growing regions to shrink, with projections that arabica coffee could lose at least 50% of its habitat. And shrinking available cropland for coffee growing is pushing farmers to look for more hospitable climate in virgin forests — increasing deforestation in the same way cacao farmers are.

“We like to think of ourselves as the Tesla of coffee,” Stopforth told Bloomberg. “Before Tesla came along, if you wanted a luxurious, powerful vehicle that was detached from diesel and fuel, you had no option… In the same way, before Atomo, if you wanted coffee that wasn’t linked to deforestation, you had no choice. Now you do.”


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