Easter chocolate prices soar as climate change and El Niño bite

Natural phenomenon turbocharging impacts from climate change on cocoa and other staple food commodities like rice, bananas and tea.

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By George Smeeton


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As new scientific research from World Weather Attribution [1] finds that climate change made the heatwave in West Africa 10 times more likely, a new report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) [2] sets out how, ahead of Easter, a combination of El Niño and climate change are driving up cocoa prices with the world’s largest exporters, Ivory Coast and Ghana, hit by extreme weather.

In December 2023, both countries experienced intense rains [3] that decimated cocoa yields; the wet conditions caused plants to rot with black pod disease. Total precipitation in West Africa was more than double the 30-year average for the time of year. However, these wet conditions were swiftly followed by droughts typical of El Niño in February 2024. This decimated yields as cocoa as is a drought-sensitive crop [4]. In a shock to the system, farmers went from having too much water to not enough.

In early March 2024, the price of cocoa beans rose to an unprecedented high of over $7,000 (approx. £5,500) per tonne – nearly three times the price in March 2020. Weight for weight, cocoa was over 11 times more valuable than oil on the same date. [5] Since then, it has continued to rise, breaching $8,000 in recent days. [6]

Nearly all cocoa globally (99.9%) is grown in countries that are the most vulnerable and least well prepared to cope with worsening climate impacts [7]. In 2023, 58m kg of cocoa beans worth £127m were imported to the UK directly from these countries. 85% of all the UK’s cocoa beans came from Ivory Coast alone [8].

Commenting Amber Sawyer, Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said: “Farmers in West Africa who grow the main ingredient, cocoa beans, of the Easter eggs many of us are looking forward to are struggling in the face of both extreme heat and extremes in rainfall.

“Wealthy nations like the UK can provide financial and technical support to developing countries to help their farmers better cope with these extremes. However, as climate change worsens, more support will undoubtedly be needed to protect their livelihoods and to keep the flow of cocoa beans, tea and rice coming into the UK.

“Ultimately, if we’re to stop these extremes getting ever worse, we have to reach net zero emissions. There are limits to the conditions in which crops can grow.”

Ben Clarke, Research Assistant on Analysis and Interpretation of Climate Data for Extreme Weather, at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College said: "El Nino years often lead to challenges for farmers through changing patterns of weather. Increasingly, climate change, driven by fossil fuel use, is multiplying this natural challenge in many regions. It fuels more extreme conditions, devastates harvests, and makes food costs higher for all."

Chocolate sits alongside other day-to-day staple foods we import to the UK where the effects of El Niño could intensify the impacts of worsening climate change:

  • Asia: over a quarter (29%) of UK rice imports were from India, the same proportion (29%) of coffee was from Vietnam, and over half (59%) of green tea was from China in 2022. The continent is typically hit by weaker monsoon rains, stronger heatwaves, droughts and water shortages during El Niño.
  • Kenya: cycles of extreme drought followed by torrential rain have been devastating, including for farmers who provided over half (58%) of the UK’s black tea in 2022.
  • South Africa: extreme heat and drought threaten some of the UK’s most popular fruit imports: in 2022, a third (32%) of grapes, a quarter (26%) of navel oranges, a third (32%) of mandarins, a third (33%) of satsumas, nearly two fifths (37%) of lemons and a fifth (21%) of nectarines came from the country.
  • South America: In 2022, over a third of our avocados (35%) came from Peru, almost all (96%) of our pineapples came from Costa Rica and over a quarter (28%) of our bananas came from Colombia. El Niño tends to bring higher temperatures, drought and fire risk to parts of the region [9].
  • Brazil: a top supplier of many fruits, including more than two thirds (69%) of limes, a quarter (24%) of mangoes and guavas, nearly half (45%) of melons and over a quarter (27%) of watermelons.

Food imports from these countries and regions are all threatened by more intense temperatures under El Niño, combined with more intense and erratic rainfall patterns that lead to droughts or floods, depending on location.


Notes to editors:

  1. World Weather Attribution analysis on the West Africa heatwave is published on Thursday 21 March: https://worldweatherattribution.us8.list-manage.com/track/click?u=854a9a3e09405d4ab19a4a9d5&id=f7a96acbec&e=d8bee40528
  2. The report, El Niño, climate change and UK food supply, is available here: https://eciu.net/analysis/reports/2024/el-ni%C3%B1o-climate-change-and-uk-food-supply
  3. Chocolate Prices Are Rising Everywhere as Cocoa Rots in West Africa: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-12-01/climate-change-in-ivory-coast-and-ghana-makes-chocolate-expensive-everywhere
  4. Cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) Response to Water Stress: https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/plant-science/articles/10.3389/fpls.2021.700855/full
  5. Oil was trading at around $82 per barrel at this time. As one barrel of oil weighs 131kg, meaning there are 7.63 barrels in a tonne, a tonne of oil cost around $626. This means cocoa was over 11x more valuable than oil on this date, weight for weight.
  6. Trading Economics: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/cocoa
  7. Climate Impacts on UK Food Impacts: spotlight on climate-vulnerable countries, Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit: https://eciu.net/analysis/reports/2023/climate-impacts-on-uk-food-imports-2
  8. These figures are derived by synthesising 2023 data from UK trade data (https://www.uktradeinfo.com/trade-data/ots-custom-table/) with the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN - https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/c...)
  9. South America braced for economic hit from return of El Niño: https://www.ft.com/content/49c62a3d-b49f-4e49-ae7c-6223a44f132f
  10. Previous ECIU research shows that 16% of UK food imports - worth £7.9 billion - came directly from nations with low climate readiness last year, i.e. those that are not only exposed to climate impacts, but also lack capacity and preparedness to adapt and respond: https://eciu.net/analysis/reports/2023/climate-impacts-on-uk-food-imports-2

For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: +44 (0)7894 571 153, email: george.smeeton@eciu.net