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English ex-pat farmer William Harcourt examines cacao beans on the isolated Las Marias plantation buried in the jungles of the Maya Coast. Centuries after European adventurers scoured Venezuela's jungles in a feverish quest for the riches of El dorado, modern-day explorers have come here hungering for a different treasure--chocolate. Picture taken October 23, 2001. (Kimberly White/Reuters/Kimberly White/Reuters)
English ex-pat farmer William Harcourt examines cacao beans on the isolated Las Marias plantation buried in the jungles of the Maya Coast. Centuries after European adventurers scoured Venezuela's jungles in a feverish quest for the riches of El dorado, modern-day explorers have come here hungering for a different treasure--chocolate. Picture taken October 23, 2001. (Kimberly White/Reuters/Kimberly White/Reuters)

Savour that chocolate while you can still afford it Add to ...

The optimal pilot ground is Ghana, the politically stable nation where leaders hope to boost production to the one million-tonne mark. If successful, the program could be replicated in other cocoa-bearing countries, many of which are badly in need of help with sustainability.

The matter of who will pay for what has yet to be determined. Mr. Mason, first of all, needs the support of the government. The state-run cocoa-marketing board, called Cocobod, controls the sale of every bean. Mr. Mason also needs climate-smart funding from the United Nation's Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. Banks and insurance companies that participated in last week's sustainability talks will hopefully help the transition to a new model by offering credit to farmers who agree to accept crop insurance and replant old tree stock. There is currently no credit or insurance available to farmers in West Africa (a common problem that plagues agriculture in developing nations).

Mr. Mason also needs the chocolate industry to stay on board. Early indications are good that the notoriously competitive companies are preparing to forge a long-term alliance in Ghana.

"Cocoa has never been able to do that," Mr. Mason said. "The private sector is so suspicious of each other."

Mr. Brett, the cocoa buyer, said the magnitude of the situation has created momentum for co-operation. "No one can handle this on their own," he said. "It's a case of all coming together and bridging the supply chain. We can do a share," he said.

There will, of course, be hurdles. If yields increase too much, farmers will want to expand their operations. The only land left where to do this in Ghana is protected forest, which is critical to conserve in order to mitigate the temperature rise caused by climate change. The weather is another wild card: No one knows how cruel climate change will be.

"If temperatures really rise, cocoa won't be viable," said Rebecca Asare, a forestry expert working with Mr. Mason. Under that scenario, chocolate prices would inevitably go up.

Some see a silver lining in that.

"There was a time in chocolate history, when chocolate was revered as a luxury item. I think there was a lot more respect for it at that time," said Mr. Schilling, the chocolate maker. "This is going to teach moderation and appreciation on a whole new level."

Perhaps those who find themselves tearing into Valentine's chocolates this week would be well advised to savour them.

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