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Could Ebola Kill Our Chocolate Supply?

Last weekend on a flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Chicago, a man felt queasy and fainted. As paramedics met him at the gate in the Windy City, rumors spread throughout the plane: The man had Ebola. He had just come from Liberia. He was contagious.

Of course, no one actually knew anything, and the man was most likely just airsick. And yet, a second health-care worker has contracted Ebola and flew on a Frontier Airlines flight to Cleveland.

Now, there's even more to get all panicked about. Ebola could essentially kill off our chocolate supply.

See also: Ebola Patient's Plane Went On to Stop in Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta

According to Politico, the Ivory Coast has closed the borders it shares with Liberia and Guinea in an attempt to stop the dreaded virus from spreading to its citizens. Although that's a smart safety measure, the closures produce other problems.

Right now, cacao beans in Ivory Coast are ready to harvest, and the workers who generally provide the labor come from Ivory Coast's neighbor nations. That could translate into cocoa shortages around the world. Ivory Coast is a major supplier of cacao beans, providing roughly 33 percent of the world's cocoa supply. According to the International Cocoa Organization, the top three cocoa-producing nations are Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), Ghana, and Indonesia.

Ivory Coast, which produces about 1.6 million metric tons of cacao beans per year -- roughly 33 percent of the world's total, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization -- closed its borders in August to Guinea and Liberia. More than 8,000 have been diagnosed with Ebola, and nearly 4,000 have died in those two countries and Sierra Leone. Next to Ivory Coast is Ghana, the world's third-largest producer of cacao beans -- 879,348 metric tons per year -- or 15 percent of the world's total.

The World Cocoa Foundation recently donated $600,000 to fight Ebola in West African nations. Bill Guyton, president, World Cocoa Foundation spoke at a WCF conference this past week, saying, "The spread of Ebola is a serious concern to WCF and our member companies, given our deep and longstanding support for the well-being of West African cocoa growing communities.

"We recognize that many rural communities in West Africa, including those where cocoa is grown, need support to find sustainable solutions to economic and social problems that

may hinder their ability to tackle threats such as Ebola. WCF will activate our existing networks in West Africa to educate rural communities about preventive measures that they

can take to avoid infection. We also believe that the best way to help West African cocoa farmers and their communities is to continue to buy the cocoa that they grow."

One hundred percent of those funds will go directly to International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Caritas in West Africa.

The WCF is also working to collect donations from major chocolate manufacturing companies like Nestle and Mars.

Right now, there's no shortage of chocolate in sight, but Jack Scoville, analyst at Price Futures Group, has noted that cocoa futures "jumped from their normal trading range of $2,000 to $2,700 per ton to as high as $3,400 in September over concerns about the spread of Ebola to Côte D'Ivoire."

Not to make light of Ebola, but maybe it's time to stock up on those Halloween candies once they're marked down on November 1.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss

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