Chocolate, the eternal gift of choice for Valentine’s Day, has been considered an aphrodisiac since the time of the Aztecs — said to contain substances that inflame desire and make the beloved more open to romance. In olden days this resulted in the tradition among European royalty to give their lovers chocolates to secure their affection, a tradition that continues to this day. But there are reasons to wonder if we’ll need a royal treasury to afford this treat in the future.

One reason is the rapid growth of the chocolate industry in emerging economies. Since the 1990s, more than a billion people from China, Indonesia, India, Brazil and the former Soviet Union have entered the market for cocoa, which I imagine means a lot of competition for Snickers bars, or whatever the Asian or Indian equivalent might be. There has been a rising demand for chocolate variants, such as milk chocolate, brownies, and dark chocolate, across the globe. There’s also been a rise in the chocolate coating of vegetables, fruits, and cereals. Apparently we are not the only people addicted to Cocoa Puffs.

Some of the additional demand for cocoa beans can be attributed to their use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, owing to their health benefits, which include regulation of fatigue syndrome, excellent antioxidant properties, and reduction of hypertension.

Despite this increased demand, cocoa farmers aren’t getting wealthier. One of the problems is that production of cocoa is under strain because farming methods haven’t changed for hundreds of years. In West Africa, for example, cocoa has historically been cultivated using slash-and-burn farming. Forests were cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot became infertile, the farmer moved to fresh forestland and did the same again. This is a limited production model; it’s just not possible to keep expanding to new land to keep producing cocoa.

In some countries, farmers have turned to the use of fertilizers and pesticides to aid cocoa production without slash-and-burn. The increased input (labor, fertilizers and pesticides) for replanting land results in higher production costs, which cannot be adjusted by price setting; it’s not the farmers, after all, who set the prices. Since cocoa producers have no control over price, higher production costs reduce the profit made by cocoa farmers.

Climate change is also affecting cocoa farmers. Longer dry seasons and less rainfall, or too much rainfall, as well as new pests and diseases, can reduce yields and quality, which translates into reduced income. The bright spot in all this is that some farmers are fortunate enough to be a part of one of the sustainability organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, which works at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to help cocoa and coffee farmers to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. Many of the world’s cocoa beans are grown by smallholder farmers, and the Rainforest Alliance offers them training events that teach the use of organic farm waste as fertilizer, use of mahogany leaves and other medicinal forest plants to naturally combat pests and diseases, and planting of leguminous cover crops to help improve soil nutrient content and soil structure. So there is some cause for optimism for the future of these farmers and for the world’s supply of cocoa beans.

On that hopeful note, I leave you with a chocolate recipe for your Valentine. Be warned: it’s the insanely rich variety. The occasion demands no less.

N U T E L L A   C H E E S E C A K E

Crust:
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
11/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
Filling:
40 oz. softened cream cheese (five 8 oz. packages at room temperature)
11/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla 4 large eggs (room temperature)
13 oz. Nutella (1 container)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray or grease a 12-inch springform pan. Stir melted butter, sugar and graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl and mix; texture should be moist, similar to wet sand. Pour into springform pan and press evenly into the bottom and one inch up the sides. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese to soften completely, then stir in granulated sugar until well incorporated. Add room-temperature eggs, mixing in one at a time. Scrape edges of bowl and stir again. Add Nutella and heavy cream. Scrape sides of the bowl and stir again to ensure a completely uniform, smooth filling. Pour into prepared springform pan. Place cheesecake on a cookie sheet and bake for 80 minutes in the middle of your oven. After 80 minutes, turn oven off completely and do not open door. Leave cheesecake in the hot oven for 6 to 8 hours or until it has cooled completely (overnight is perfect). Cooling the cheesecake in the oven and bringing its temperature down very slowly ensures it doesn’t crack. Once cheesecake is cooled, remove from oven, run a butter knife around the edges and remove the outer edge of the springform pan. Cover and refrigerate to chill completely. When chilled, remove from refrigerator and top with hazelnuts before bringing to table.