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The Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food course ended with a very interesting question: What is the future of chocolate? We would like to think that chocolate has a future, especially in the it-should-always-be-available-for-my-consumption sense, but if you have ever really wondered about the future of chocolate, this report might shed some light on the long-term sustainability of cacao and the livelihood of farmers who do their best to meet the growing demand in the age of global warming and projected climate change.

Note: Cacao and cocoa will be used interchangeably for the purposes of this report.


It is probably the most uncontested fact about cacao: Africa is its major supplier. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana alone produce over 50% of the world’s cacao. When the nations of Nigeria and Cameroon are included in this unbalanced equation, the total contribution to cacao production stands at 70% (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012; Barometer Consortium; Laderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013). In other words, there is a lot of chocolate at stake in Africa! And yet, the “entire African continent is the least studied region in terms of ecosystem dynamics and climate variability” (Anyah & Qiu, 2012, p.347). This is even after projections and the Global Climate Model (GCM) predict Africa to be in a very precarious position following extreme weather patterns, including long-term droughts (IPCC). This is especially troubling considering that the majority of Africa’s crops are rain-fed (Anyah et al., 2012). Connolly, Boutin, and Smit (2015) describe a 20-50% drop in cacao yield by 2050. While we cannot control the weather or be certain about cacao yield predictions, researchers have offered various solutions to buffer some of the impacts from climate change and global warming. This report will present some of these solutions and highlight a case study in Bahia, Brazil, where a resurgence in cacao production is occurring-this, after having experienced a crippling blow. The spotlight needs to be on Africa, especially its biggest cacao-producing countries and states, to ensure the future of cacao, its farmers, and ultimately chocolate.

Western Africa: An agriculture-based economy

According to Hamzat, Olaiya, Sanusi, & Adedeji (2006), the survival of cacao in West Africa up till now is entirely due to the Forastero Amazon strain introduced by Posnette (a plant pathologist credited with saving the West African cocoa industry)* and the West African Cocoa Research Institute (WASRI) in the mid-20th century (p.18). One of the major issues that arise from an agriculture-based economy are pests and diseases which can devastate crops. Black Pod Disease and Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease (CSSV) are the two prominent diseases affecting the cacao crop in western Africa (Hamzat et al., 2006). Farm-maintenance management practices have also been known to inadvertently attract pests (i.e. brown and black cocoa mirids). It might seem like a terrible paradox, but food scarcity is also a major problem in an agriculture-based economy like western Africa’s, considering that “cocoa occupies 2.4 million hectares in Cote d’Ivoire and 1.5 million in Ghana, more than in any other country in the world” (Laderach et al., 2013, p.842). Farmers in this region usually do not combine and/or rotate crops and are left without food supply, detrimentally affecting their nutritional intake (Schmitz et al., 2012). The fact that most cacao farmers are producing on a small-scale also comes into play: in Nigeria, small holdings of farmers account for 60% of Nigeria’s total (cacao) output. Most of these farmers are in remote, rural areas and do not have access to the best seedlings or the equipment/infrastructure needed to produce higher, better quality yield (Hamzat et al., 2006). According to Hamzat et al. (2006), these farmers have a difficult time obtaining credit to make the necessary improvements. This might not appear to be a deal breaker considering that most small cacao farmers have been in business for years without high-tech machinery assisting them, but Schmitz & Shapiro (2012) state that modern farming techniques can make a drastic difference; at least 1,000 kilograms per hectare or more. At the same time, the next generation of would-be (cacao) farmers are leaving the rural areas en masse (Hamzat et al., 2006). The rural-to-urban migration is largely influenced by the fluctuating price of cocoa and the fact that cocoa is very labor intensive and the crop itself is fickle and susceptible to disease (Hamzat et al., 2006). This situation results in an aging farmer population who are less willing to adapt their farming techniques to produce more cacao and are looking to leaving the cacao industry altogether. West Africa’s history with cacao is not particularly rosy either- the use of child slave labor uncovered as late as 2000’s, has blacklisted the region.

Black Pod Disease.jpg Black Pod Disease

Photo Credit: Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). 

Africa will also have to contend with a projected population boom (Miller, Waha, Bondeau, Heinke (2014). This may interrupt the cacao industry in that farmers will be forced to grow food, rather than their cash crop. The surge in population might also alter farming completely in that water will become an even more precious resource not to be wasted on cacao farms. Together, these social, economic, and technical issues will be exacerbated with the addition of above-average climate change for the region in the 21st century.

*To read more about Dr. A.F. Posnette, visit

Rising demand and the major chocolate actors in West African

The sustainability of cacao is a topic at the forefront of Big Chocolate, namely Mars and Hershey. Schmitz & Shapiro (2012), scientists working on behalf of Mars, quantify the expected increase in world-wide chocolate demand: “currently, farmers produce approximately 3.7 million metric tons of cocoa, where expected demand is said to reach over 4 million metric tons of cocoa by 2020 (p.62-63). Due in part to this pressing timeline, Mars has connected with scientists, universities, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to essentially “save” chocolate. Mars and Hershey have both committed to buying 100% of their cacao supply from farms using sustainable practices by 2020. To qualify “sustainable,” Mars and Hershey have partnered with The Fair Trade Foundation. Of course, there are many equity (and other) issues surrounding Fair Trade (see Prof. Martin’s April 6, 2016 lecture). For the past 50 years, Hershey has bought the bulk of their cacao from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Hershey Cocoa Sustainability Strategy). These big chocolate corporations have provided funding to organizations like Fair Trade to “help cocoa farmers improve their processes, yield, and profits” (DesMarais, 2014). While cocoa farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are benefitting from the help extended to them by Big Chocolate, Hershey and Mars have plenty to lose if the cocoa crop is neglected in this region, specifically in terms of supply. Mars and Hershey (among other Big Five chocolate actors) have been vying the Chinese market for the last few years (Allen, 2009), and now, the demand from these new markets has presented more urgency regarding the sustainability of cacao in western Africa.


Credit: Cocoa Barometer 2015

Is cacao’s future in the hands of science?

The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that 30-40% of the cacao crop is lost to pests and disease. With a race against time, scientists and researchers have been engineering a new super breed of cacao. With a projected rise in temperature by 2’C (or approximately 35’F) in western Africa, scientists are in search of a drought-tolerant, disease-immune cacao strain. So far, Mars and the USDA have sequenced the cacao genome in an attempt to breed hardier trees (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012, p. 63). Critics of this super breed are worried about the flavor; CCN51, is said to be resistant to witches’ broom, but according to certain palettes (i.e. The C-spot), this breed is described as “weak basal cocoa with thin fruit overlay; lead and wood shavings; astringent and acidic pulp; quite bitter” (Schatzker, 2014). If we can appreciate anything about chocolate, it is its flavor profile and depth, making the problem of taste all the more relevant. Schatzker (2014) suggests that Big Chocolate might not be so concerned with flavor given that they can use fillers to fortify their chocolate (e.g. vegetable fat, milk, vanilla, flavor chemicals). So, to answer the question if cacao’s future is in the hands of science-certainly Big Chocolate seems to think so.

Global Efforts to boost cacao crops_scientific american

Credit: Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). 

If the history of the coffee crop can teach us anything, however, it is that science does not always offer the best alternative. Arabica coffee, like the cacao tree, grows best under shade (they are understory trees), but when a hybrid (that could tolerate the sun) was introduced to boost the coffee bean yield, many environmental issues arose, among these: The use of herbicides and fertilizer (which led to contamination of groundwater), deforestation, and the trees having to be replaced more often (Craves, 2006).

To summarize what climate experts predict will happen by mid-century (Miller et al., 2014, p.2507):

Freshwater availability will decrease.

Flooding probability will increase.

Dry periods will increase.

Irrigation water required will increase.

Crop yield will decrease.

Scientists, at times working for Big Chocolate, hope to address these climate issues by breeding superior genotypes of Theobroma cacao. It is in the interest of the Big Five to keep up research efforts in western Africa as most of their cacao comes from this region. Again, for the past fifty years or so, Hershey and Mars have benefitted from the region, amassing fortunes; it is time they give back to the land and people that have given up so much. But keeping pace with increased demand in chocolate is not just their problem. Indeed, there are others working on behalf of chocolate. The International Group for the Genetic Improvement of Cocoa (INGENIC) has sprouted out of concern for the future of cacao and were established to collaborate and coordinate on cocoa breeding and management of germplasm resources (INGENIC). Still others, like members of the Cocoa Barometer Organization, are turning to raising awareness and education to reach consumers and farmers alike. Small-scale farmers in western Africa, already experiencing the impacts of climate change, seek some certainty for their very uncertain future, whether in the form of science or other.

Case Study: Bahia, Brazil and traditional farming

Brazilian cacao farmers call it “cabruca.” It is their traditional method of farming cacao-using the shade of other food crop and timber trees, they have maximized the use of the land. Another name for this form of farming is known as mixed agroforestry systems. This method of farming is known to improve the water-holding capacity of the trees (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). It is sustainable and environmentally-friendly because 1. It provides corridors for wildlife increasing biodiversity; 2. The trees and surrounding plants capture more carbon; 3. It generally requires less water; and 4. More of the (dwindling) forest is preserved (Sambuichi, Vidal, Piasentin, Jardim, Viana, Menezes, Mello, Ahnert & Baligar, 2012; Schroth, Faria, Araujo, Bede, Van Bael, Cassano, Oliveira, & Delabie, 2011). Bahia is also currently experimenting with a second method: planting cacao trees at higher altitudes, out of pests’ normal range (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). In the 1980’s, this region of Brazil experienced a devastating blow to their prized cacao crop-a reduction of 80% in cacao yield-collapsing the cacao economy (Schmitz & Shapiro, 2012). Limited genetic variation led to a near wipeout of cacao trees in the area (most succumbed to witches’ broom). Today, Bahia, has reemerged as a contender in the cacao industry and is recognized for its flavorful cacao beans. In light of global warming, researchers have begun to explore the potential “lessons-learned” from Bahia that could be applied to western Africa; however, most agree that site-specific strategies are needed.


Cabruca Farming

Photo Credit: eCacaos


Although this blog attempted to touch on the current situation regarding cacao in West Africa and cover a wide range of potential climate change scenarios projected for this region, there are probably more questions than answers. In obtaining feedback for this paper, there was a comment about global warming and climate change involving a lot of speculation. And in truth, no one can really know the impacts climate change will bring. What we can stand firm on is the fact that climate change will happen. In other words, it is not a question of if, but when. West Africa has become a living lab of sorts, but a question one might have about cacao coming from this specific region may involve the major chocolate buyers. Should we care about Big Chocolate like Hershey and Mars running out of supply? The simple answer is yes. The livelihoods of so many farmers depend on corporations like Mars to buy their product, and if organizations like Fair Trade can lead the sustainability efforts, farmers will benefit. The places cacao is sourced from may change-according to NOAA cacao can only grow within 20’ north and south of the equator today, but in the future, higher altitudes may be called for-but terroir and consistent quality cacao will always be a good selling point. It is in everyone’s best interested to be invested in the future of chocolate, cacao farmers, and the West African region in particular. Finally, it was important to introduce the Bahia case study to demonstrate how one region, in the midst of global warming projections and a near wipeout under the belts, are still finding ways to minimize their ecological footprint. We do not have to wait for 2020 or 2050 to arrive, the future of chocolate is now.

Works Cited

A.F. “Peter” Posnette. Telegraph online. Accessed from:

Allen, L.L. (2009). Chocolate fortunes: The battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China’s consumers. New York: AMACOM.

Anti-Slavery International (2004). The Cocoa Industry in West Africa: A history of exploitation.

Anyah, R.O. & Qiu, W. (2012). Characteristic 20th and 21st century precipitation and temperature patterns and changes over the Greater Horn of Africa. International Journal of Climatology, 32.

Cocoa Barometer 2015. Accessed from:

Connolly-Boutin, L., & Smit, B. (2016). Climate change, food security, and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Regional Environmental Change, 16.

Craves, J. (2006, February 5). The problems with sun coffee. Accessed from:

DesMarais,C. (2014, March 20). Hershey’s and Mars sweeten market for West African cocoa farmers. Greenbiz online. Accessed from:

Hamzat, R.A., Olaiya, A.O., Sanusi, R.A., & Adedeji, A.R. (2006). State of cocoa growing, quality and research in Nigeria: Need for intervention. Presented at The Biannual Partnership Programme of the World Cocoa Foundation.

Hershey’s Cocoa Sustainability Strategy. Accessed from:

INGENIC. Accessed from:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate Change 2013, Chapter 14. Accessed from:

Laderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2012). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119.

Mars Sustainability Strategy. Accessed from:

Muller, C., Waha, K. Bondeau, A. & Heinke, J. (2014). Hotspots of climate change impacts in sub-Saharan Africa and implications for adaptation and development. Global Change Biology, 20.

NOAA. Climate and chocolate. Accessed from:

Sambuichi, R. H. R., Vidal, D.B., Piasentin, F.B., Jardim, J.G., Viana, T.G., Menezes, A.A., Mello, D.L.N., Ahnert, D. & Baligar, V.C. (2012). Cabruca agroforests in southern Bahia, Brazil: Tree component, management practices and tree species conservation. Biodiversity Conservation, 21.

Schatzer, M. (2014, November 14). To save chocolate, scientists develop new breeds of cacao. Bloomberg Markets online. Accessed from:

Schmitz, H. & Shapiro, H.Y. (2012). The future of chocolate. Scientific American.

Schroth, G., Faria, D., Araujo, M., Bede, L., Van Bael, S. A., Cassano, C.R., Oliveira, L.C., & Delabie, J.H.C. (2010). Conservation in tropical landscape mosaics: The case of the cacao landscape of southern Bahia, Brazil. Biodiversity Conservation, 20.

Silberner, J. (2007, November 19). How chocolate can save the planet. NPR online. Accessed from:

World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). Accessed from:



Dove: Choose Pleasure. A critique on the fetishization of women in chocolate ads.


One of the ‘Big Five,’ Mars Chocolate, has once again set about marketing their latest creation: DOVE Fruit and Nut Blends. This particular campaign is being advertised in the U.S. market, however, the fetishization of women in connection to selling chocolate is not limited to North America, Mars, nor the chocolate industry. Robertson (2009) develops a narrative where the consumption of chocolate became feminized early on in the West. Robertson describes women as the household adult having purchasing power and (after seeing a commercial geared toward this power), wanting to do right by her children and husband and thus finding a way to satisfy their chocolate needs. However, Robertson, describes a shift in advertising post WWII (1940s and 1950s), where the housewife becomes a magical figure and both she and the product end up becoming fetishized. Fast forward to the current DOVE Chocolate commercial being played out today: A light-skinned woman of uncertain ethnic descent appears in the first second of the 30 second video, but the viewer does not get familiar with her face because it will become evident that the commercial is not about her, rather her expressions and the way her body seemingly responds to this new fruit and nut dark chocolate blend. It is well established that advertising firms should know their audience and market, however, the sensuality seen in recent chocolate commercials is a bit perplexing. If it is really about the chocolate, then the chocolate should be able to sell itself or not rely too heavily on the woman being featured.

See stills taken from the video below:

DOVE Chocolate

Dove advert_video stills

See commercial at this link (current user plan does not allow embedding video at this time):

Video credits and information: 
Length: 30 seconds
Released: March 2016, U.S.
BBND-NY Advertising Agency
Production Company: The Joinery
Directed by: Ozan Biron

In “Who’s winning China’s chocolate war?,” Mars has emerged as the victor, but by far, (34% of national consumption), their DOVE brand reigns supreme within the Chinese market. It is interesting to see Mars come out on top because Allen (2010), was emphatic about the Big Five finding their niche in the vast Chinese market. Specifically, Allen asserted that the chocolate company with the ability to make their brand stand out would win over the Chinese consumer. Allen pointed to the traditional gift-giving practice that chocolate could play-but this would mean focusing on the packaging. Where an American consumer might eat the whole chocolate bar in one sitting without paying much attention to the packaging, the Chinese consumer would be selective in choosing the chocolate bar or bag because it would be given as a gift.


Photo credit: Huffington Post

The U.S. market favors Mars DOVE brand as well. The Huffington Post looked at America’s favorite chocolates and DOVE performed quite well, going above other giants like Cadbury and Hershey’s.

But again, we have to question Mars motivation in featuring a woman in the throes of passion, writhing her way in and out of shot. The DOVE commercial does exhibit great visual effects to showcase the “stars” of the new chocolate blend being advertised, however, but even these are very sensual. The fruit has chocolate poured over it and then there are bursts as shot after shot capture the movement of fruit, nuts, and chocolate being melded as one.

Alternative Advertisement

Dove-fruit and nut advert

The alternate way of advertising DOVE’s Fruit and Nut Blends is simply by focusing on those very things. The fruit does take on a few characteristics that could be interpreted to be gender-specific, but it is all in the eye of the beholder. The nuts dance about as the dark chocolate rains from above.

Relevantly, Robertson (2009) writes that chocolate lends itself to fantasy-sometimes this illusion is one of sensuality and excess- but why must it always be women who go crazy and lose their minds? Advertisements can be witty and enticing without being sexual. DOVE Chocolate already enjoys a good share of the market and the chocolate should be able to sell itself on its own merits; in this case, whether it be for the American or Chinese consumer. The dominant query for this particular DOVE advertisement was actually about the music, not the chocolate. To sum, if DOVE wants conversation and buzz to swirl around their latest creation, it should be focused on what is different about this chocolate versus their last.


Allen, L.L. (2010). Chocolate fortunes: The battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China’s consumers. New York: AMACOM.

Doland, A. (2014, December 8). Who’s winning China’s chocolate war? Retrieved from:

Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, women, and empire. New York: Manchester University Press.

Tepper, R. (2013, February 6). America’s most and least favorite chocolates. Retrieved from:


“Absolutely Slave Grown Cocoa”

Just as Cadbury gained the public’s good will again after the contaminated chocolate fiasco, it had another controversy on its hands. The Quaker backbone and signature workflow of Cadbury were about to be shaken up by allegations of the use of slave labor via the company’s premier supplier in Sao Tome. It had been no secret that Cadbury prided itself on its Quaker values and placing an emphasis on these, invested money to ensure their workers had a safe, morally-upright place to live and work.  Prominently displayed in the Bournville Factory, nay community-a worker’s paradise of sorts emerged, where progressive measures in the workplace had people vying for an opportunity to become a Cadbury factory employee. However, it would seem this concern for its workers was not shared across the board. Cadbury, with the pressure of the increased demand for its chocolate bought and used cacao produced in areas where slave labor was prolific. Sharply contrasted with the Bournville utopian community, slaves from the interior of Africa were led to their demise, never to be seen or heard from again upon reaching the islands of San Tome and Principe-both under Portuguese command. Even after murmurings of the slave practice, Cadbury continued their relationship with the planters out of “fairness.” After various probes into the matter,  the question of slavery under another name was no longer undeniable.  Over the course of eight years, Cadbury came to face the reality of slavery on the island and its complicity in the practice and forced to realize that its supply chain was also part of their responsibility.

In the “official” Cadbury history timeline there is a gap between 1900 and 1905 (1). This particular hole in time will become important as this report unfolds. The timeline shows that in 1900, Cadbury had put its unique touch on advertisement and marketing with a quaint sense of humor. No doubt, Cadbury did not expect their catchy slogans to backfire.  Higgs (2012) describes the public outcry over the revelation of slave-produced cacao: “Absolutely pure, therefore the best,” was changed to “Absolutely slave grown.”

Photo Credit: Photo altered by the author
Photo Credit:
Photo altered by the author

Photo description: Higgs recounts a PR nightmare for Cadbury as hundreds of concerned citizens wrote to the chocolate manufacturer to voice their outrage.

In the 1870’s, Portugal abolished slavery (Satre, 2005). This, however, did not end the practice of slavery. Slavery was simply dressed in “contract labor.” Slaves were rounded up from the interior of Africa and in marching procession headed toward the coast where they were traded and sold in colonial Portugal. Satre (2005) remarks that there were a lot of people involved in this profitable business, from the government, to the steamship, to the doctors who kept the slaves alive (p. 8). I would venture to add Cadbury themselves were part of this chain of responsibility having admittedly bought at least 20% of their raw cacao from the island of San Tome (Satre, 2005, p. 15). Three of the Quaker chocolate makers including Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree had affiliations with cacao planters on the island as well. ” In 1900 the firm had purchased over 45% of its cocoa beans from the island” (Satre, 2005, p13).

It was 1901,  and one of the Cadbury brothers was alerted to the use of slaves on the island of San Tome. Having quite a stake in the matter, he did not want the Cadbury brand to be affiliated with the practice. After all, George Cadbury, the owner of the Daily News made quite a commotion with the expose on “yellow slavery” in the mines of South Africa (Satre, 2005, p.12). Not one to make rash decisions, the Cadbury firm investigated the matter for the next 7 years even after the Harper’s articles written by Nevinson hit the stands.  “The New Slave Trade,” made many waves in the English conscience and established itself as a topic of worthy chatter. George Cadbury had joined the major anti-abolitionist movements of the century and yet, here was evidence of slave labor being used to further the Cadbury brand. Nevinson experienced the march of death himself as he walked along the same route to the coast as had thousands of slaves before him.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Photo description: Nevinson describes a chilling scene as he comes upon tree branches outfitted with shackles of slaves who presumably did not make it.

Through the course of countless trips to the island, one by a Cadbury himself, the financial relationship with the planters of San Tome did not end until the public pressure was too hard to ignore. A public boycott by the major British chocolate makers finally made some sort of acknowledgement that, yes, slavery was a real issue. 4,000 African slaves were shipped to the island per year and most died within 3.5 to 4 years (Satre, 2015). The notion of repatriation and severance pay and full commitment to a 5-year contract was mostly a sham. Most slaves who reached the island of San Tome and Principe never left. Upheld as one of the model working villages/factories of its time, Bournville lies in stark contrast to the working conditions of slaves on the San Tome island.

Video description: This short feature film was awarded the Gold Polyhedron at the Turin International Film Festival in 1953. The film portrays a view into the life of a Cadbury employee living in the Bournville village sponsored by the Cadbury firm.

The cacao industry in San Tome was heavily disrupted by the boycott and ultimately, by the swollen-shoot disease afflicting the cacao tree (Satre, 2015). Cadbury and other British chocolate makers resorted to the Gold Coast for their raw cacao to distance themselves from the slavery controversy. Today, Cadbury continues to buy the bulk of their cacao from Ghana (formerly known as the Gold Coast) (2).  The Quaker companies’ decision to end their relationship with planters with questionable labor practices is illustrative of a company that can be out of touch with their labor and supply chain, but who, thanks to public pressure, attempts to rectify the situation.


(1) Cadbury UK.\

(2) Cadbury AU.

Higgs (2012). Chocolate islands: Cocoa slavery and colonial Africa. Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Satre, L.J. (2005). Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Bolivia? How chocolate came full circle

I was recently at L.A. Burdick’s chocolate shop and I came across cocoa powder (to make hot chocolate) and chocolate bars. Now, encountering chocolate (in its infinite forms) in a chocolate shop is not the surprising part here. The surprise was reading a beautiful but simple font spelling out “Bolivia” on the packaging of a chocolate bar. These bars are “single source,” meaning the cacao is derived from a single cacao farm, or, even more broadly, a single country (Coles 2015). Bolivia struck me as a country having very loose ties to chocolate, if any at all. I have associated Bolivia with coca leaves and quinoa for so long, that it was hard for me to even conceive of an area in Bolivia where cacao might be harvested-I have visited a few regions of Bolivia and none seemed to have the “appropriate” conditions for cacao farming. As we have discovered in class, cacao farming is restricted to certain regions of the world because the tree only takes root when its preferences have been met-most of these having to do with climate, shade, moisture, etc. Coe (2013) describes the ideal environment  for the cacao plant as “damp, shaded understory” (p. 21).


In doing research for this blog post, I discovered that, in fact, Bolivia is producing cacao and doing it very well at that.  Bolivia is recognized as the “world’s largest producer of organic cacao” (see: “Bolivia is the largest producer of organic cocoa”). The cacao industry of Bolivia is estimated to generate $2 million in exports and has 12,000 hectares of wild cacao farms (see: “Bolivia is the largest producer of organic cocoa). The majority of the cacao is coming from La Paz and Beni. I was not sure what was meant by the descriptor “wild,” but a blogger from Chocablog describes the Bolivian cacao beans as small and “almost half the size of their cultivated brothers.” They thrive in the ancient rainforest cocoa islands of Beni (a department or small state of Bolivia), off the river’s edge and are prized for the “rich, honeyed fruit tones and un-tampered flavor” (see: “In search of wild Bolivian cacao”). This description reminded me of Coe’s (2013) explanation of the Spaniard’s (Madrilenos) love for the chocolate coming from the Mojos region of Bolivia. It was “valued for its fragrance and lack of bitterness” (p. 207). I can attest to the fruity notes in the chocolate bar I bought at L.A. Burdicks. The 68% cacao content gives the consumer the opportunity to experience a beautiful range of the cacao flavor.

Ripe pods
Ripe pods
Fermenting beans in canoe

The Rainforest Exquisite Products S.A. or REPSA was established to try to increase the quality of the harvest in Bolivia and so far, the cacao beans are coveted by luxury chocolate makers around the world, including Switzerland. However, the harvesting of cacao has not come without controversy. Just like the Jesuits used the indigenous communities of Bolivia and other parts of South America to sustain their cacao-producing farms, native peoples are also the main backbone of today’s cacao economy in Bolivia. I found a short video illustrating the effects of disinvestment in communities that rely on this industry.


While South America, specifically the northwest Amazon region, is known to be the genetic center of cacao’s diversity, its cultural center in Mesoamerica is known more widely. It was the Aztecs after all who integrated cacao into their daily lives. Cacao has now come full circle with its “return” to the homeland. Presilla (2009) points to scientific research that found “two areas that gave rise to different genotypes:” the Amazon River basin and Peru (p. 8). It is nice to see that Bolivia has also come back into the equation of cacao, even if it means spending $10 on a bar of chocolate.



Coe, S.D. & Coe, M.D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. China: Everbest Printing Co, Ltd.

Presilla, M.E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Electronic Sources:

Video retrieved from:

In search of wild Bolivian cacao. Chocablog. Retrieved from: Images also taken from the chocoablog website. (68% cocoa content)