University of California Biosciences and candy company Mars, best known for Snickers, are working to make cacao plants capable of surviving - and thriving - in dryer, warmer climates.
Tiny, precise tweaks to plant DNA are already being used to make crops cheaper and more reliable. But their most important use may be in the developing world, where many of the plants that people rely on to avoid starvation are threatened by the impacts of climate change.
Cacao plants occupy a precarious position on the globe. They can only grow within a narrow strip of rainforested land roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator, where temperature, rain, and humidity all stay relatively constant throughout the year. Over half of the world's chocolate now comes from just two countries in West Africa — Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
By 2050, rising temperatures will push today's chocolate-growing regions more than 1,000 feet uphill into mountainous terrain — much of which is currently preserved for wildlife, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In September, the Mars company pledged $1 billion as part of an effort called "Sustainability in a Generation," which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and supply chain by more than 60% by 2050.
"We're trying to go all in here," Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider. "There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don't think we're getting there fast enough collectively."