The ordinary consumer does not usually pause to reflect on the origins of the chocolate he/she consumes. Yet, the ingredients of chocolate undergo a lot of processing before they are ultimately turned into a final good. And, before all human-induced processing can ever happen, a growth and reproduction cycle of cacao is absolutely necessary. However, cacao’s future may be under question. Though humans may continue supplying the arduous hand labor required for cacao tree cultivation, cacao diseases prove to be at cross purposes to a threatening level. Plus, with the looming advent of climate change, these diseases may potentially gain more traction, and put at risk global, and not just local, cacao production. Hence, it is an opportune moment for humanity to pool resources into the research and development of barriers to cacao diseases. That is, if it is still in the best interest of society to help cocoa trees survive.
At the heart of this problem is the botanical and natural history of cacao. Theobroma Cacao (theobroma translating to “Food of the Gods”) is the scientific name the naturalist Linnaeus gave to the cacao tree, which bears the fruit essential to the production of chocolate.[efn_note] 1) Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18. [/efn_note] Cacao’s origin is very likely to have been the northwest Amazon basin.[efn_note] 2) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 37. [/efn_note] Though there is no consensus on the roots of cultivated Theobroma cacao, the oldest known traces of domesticated cacao date back to 1800 BC, and the Olmec civilization is thought to have been the first to either domesticate the plant or discover the process of using cacao beans to make chocolate. [efn_note] 3) Ibid, 35. [/efn_note]
Theobroma cacao species are very similar regarding their fundamental reproductive cycles. Along the trunk of a cacao tree, small flowers bloom. The lucky ones – those which end up pollinated only by midges – end up giving birth to cacao pods: these contain a sweet, white pulp, which engulfs so-called “beans” (actually seeds), and these beans are the parts which ultimately are used to produce chocolate as we know it today. Wild animals actually seek the sweet, white pulp (which humans remove via fermentation in the chocolate production), and inadvertently end up distributing the beans, aiding the natural cycle. But, the “food of the gods” is quite particular about its preferences: A cacao tree loves the shade, will demand year-round moisture, will not tolerate temperatures below 16o C, and will typically not yield its fruit unless it is within the band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator.[efn_note] 4) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 19. [/efn_note] If cacao pods are in the right conditions to grow, they will take between four to five months to reach maximum size, plus one more month to fully ripen.[efn_note] 5) Ibid, 21. [/efn_note] Cacao’s diffusion across the globe and human selection have together resulted in an understanding of two main subspecies of Theobroma cacao which may interbreed and form fertile hybrids (e.g. the trinitario hybrid): criollo and forastero.[efn_note] 6) Ibid, 26. [/efn_note] While criollo cacao is considered to have a more superior quality, with more flavor and aroma, the forastero cacao is more prolific and accounts for more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop.[efn_note] 7) Ibid. [/efn_note]
This burdening list of demands does not diminish the historical, standing desire for the food of the gods. Indeed, these demands might as well add to the value of cacao. A cacao bean mostly consists of fat, while less than 10 percent of its weight is protein and starch.[efn_note] 8) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 28. [/efn_note] Regarding chemical composition, cacao contains two alkaloids (methylxanthines), theobromine and caffeine. Caffeine is addictive, as is sugar, a relatively recent addition tied to European chocolate consumption. Cacao is known for containing hundreds of compounds, among which stands out the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity.”[efn_note] 9) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 31. [/efn_note] Given the chemical complexity of cacao, it is perhaps less surprising that it has been associated with numerous different purposes, such as a unit of currency, medicine, sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, congregational drink, and even source of energy and strength. But, the array of diseases cacao is prone to, including “witches’ brooms,” pod rots, and wilts, puts the entire world supply at risk, especially given the small diversity of species.
The Witches’ Broom Disease is caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa, and prevents cacao trees from reproducing. In Brazil for example, the “Witches’ Brooms ” cocoa disease – spread as part of a malicious political campaign in a late 1980s sabotage against landowners – resulted in a dramatic downfall of national cocoa production, changing Brazil’s role as an exporter of cacao into an importer. In Ventania, a 900-person village in the northeast of Bahia which once flourished with cacao plantations, tragic consequences were visible, and remain evident to this day. Unemployment rose as cattle jobs were far fewer than cocoa jobs. Crime escalated and adolescents were, and continue to be, drawn to drugs and prostitution. Surely, the world has since seen more security checks in airports to help prevent transport and contamination of agricultural crops. Yet, if any disease like witches’ broom disease somehow were contracted in a major cacao-producing country, such as the Ivory Coast, that would provoke disastrous ripple effects.
Many of the technologies taken for granted today are in some way or another a consequence of the homo sapiens’ control over fire and ignition.[efn_note] 10) Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, (New York Harper: 2015) [/efn_note] To draw an analogy, in the same way that fire plays a critical role in the cooking of a raw meat to be eaten, most of the technology in the business of cacao is concentrated on the processing of cacao into a consumable, desirable chocolate. But, fire is also employable in the defense of a tribe’s piece of meat from a hungry lion, and so must be technology in the face of disease. Extrapolating from this analogy, technological advances have helped civilizations make the most of cacao as a resource for consumer’s demands, but now should ideally begin to shift towards the priority of protecting cacao in its raw form. As Kristy Leissle puts it, accounts for “the world is running out of chocolate” are generally published to increase the supply of cacao and drive down prices for the largest chocolate producers.[efn_note] 11) Leissle, Kristy, (Polity Press: 2018), 178. [/efn_note] Yet, this is not a debate of merely increasing supply, it is about diversifying to diminish risk, and increasing cacao’s immunity to diseases.
That is where genetic modification comes in with a promising future. In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050.”[efn_note] 12) Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out,” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. [/efn_note] In the face of climate change, Mars and UC Berkeley are using CRISPR technology to begin exploring gene editing. This information is also supported by Erin Brodwin’s account in the World Economic Forum.[efn_note] 13) Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” [/efn_note] Human intervention may prove to be essential to the survival of cacao as well as the efficiency of its production.
Benefits of GMOs are already apparent in the cultivation of “gold rice” and potatoes. But, media is a challenge: the wave of non-GMO pressure must be confronted with rational, data-driven evidence along with more personal stories and appeals pathos with which consumers will more sentimentally connect. For example, one way of framing the argument follows:
Harmful pesticides in potato fields are avoidable when gene edited potatoes are immune to pests. In turn, this prevents workers on the field from getting brain damage from the toxic pesticides they spread.
The example above demonstrates an underlying truth: Propaganda and public interaction have a tremendous power to influence people. Seemingly aware of this notion, and with the purpose of diminishing the negative image of GMOs, “an advocacy group for genetic crop modification is giving away 4,000 pro-GMO chocolates for free in the run-up to Valentine’s Day,” reported Jeremy Hill on February 13, 2019.[efn_note] 14) Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. [/efn_note] Yet, because there are still uncertain long-term effects of GMO plants, and some GMOs have negatively impacted butterfly populations, cacao producers should invest in the research and development of GMOs, albeit with caution for unexpected effects.[efn_note] 15) Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet,” Accessed in 2019. [/efn_note] Ideally, it would be best if the flora and fauna where GMOs are put in place could be replicated into a sample environment for experimentation. This way, unintended effects may be mitigated, and the public perception of much-needed GMOs may ameliorate. Ultimately, genetic modification may serve humankind as a wall of fire. But, it must simultaneously be supervised, as an unwatched fire may get out of control and cause serious damage.
Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).
So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.
So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:
“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8
For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,
“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies.Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10
Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.
The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.
So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16
What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0
1. Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 4/11/18, Class Lecture
2. Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3/7/18, Class Lecture
The Arab-Islamic Civilization spread the cultivation and consumption of sugar, changing worldwide habits and trends in food culture and creations to the modern day. Straddling three continents, Islamic empires in the medieval era allowed an intermingling of cultures and traditions, from East to West. “The Arab expansion westward marked a turning point in the European experience of sugar…the Arabs introduced sugar cane, its cultivation, the art of sugar making, and a taste for this different kind of sweetness.” (Mintz, 23) It would change the course of history and affect lands and peoples much far away; laying the foundations of large scale plantations that would eventually be established in the Americas and Caribbean Islands.
In a few centuries, sugar went from being a scarce spice and medicine, to a widely consumed, daily staple product of people of all economic standing, all over the world. The crystallization of sugar first started in India and was used in Persia by the sixth century. After the rise of Islam, the Arabs entered Persia and were introduced to the age-old process of sugar produced from cane, adopting and further developing these techniques. They planted sugar-cane in plantations across their empires, in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal), and by the tenth century the Arabs were growing the crop in Sicily, all the while perfecting the process of refining it in sugar mills. (Salloum, 4)
Picture 1: Map Showing Sugar Cultivation by Muslims
In the lands of the Mediterranean, Arabs developed agriculture and introduced new crops to the land, such as, orange, lemon, banana, saffron, fig, date trees, and most importantly, sugar cane. Wherever the Arabs went, they brought sugar, the product and technology of its production with them, to the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Crete and Malta. (Mintz, 25) During the Muslim rule in Spain, there was numerous contributions of irrigation, soil management, and scholarly efforts in farming innovation. (Hughes, 68) These plants were used not only in agriculture, but for pharmacy, gardens, luxury trade, and arts.
For nearly eight centuries, under her (Muslim) rulers, Spain set to all of Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened State. Her fertile provinces, rendered doubly prolific by the industry and engineering skill of her conquerors, bore fruit an hundredfold. Cities innumerable sprang up in the rich valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, whose names, and names only, still commemorate the vanished glories of their past. (Lane-Poole, vii)
Irrigation and agricultural practices established then has had a lasting impact. “The knowledge, handwork, commodities, and luxuries of the East were brought by caravans to the farther East, and came by shipping from the Levant to the Mediterranean ports of Spain. Seeds and plants were thus transported; thus, came rice and cotton and the sugar-cane”. (Coppee, 397) Sugar was cultivated as far north as Castellon, which is probably the most northerly point of its commercial cultivation. To the south, it was grown in Arabia Felix, Abyssinia, and the islands and the mainland of East Africa from the ninth century. From Arabia Felix, or directly from Oman, the plant was brought to Zanzibar, where it was reported the finest sugar came. From Zanzibar, the plant could have been taken to Madagascar. (Watson, 30)
Sugar was at first regarded an important spice and medicinal component and was consumed in large quantities in the Middle East. It was used by physicians from India to Spain, slowly entering European medical practice via Arab Pharmacology. (Mintz, 80) As early as the eleventh century a treatise on sugar was written by a Baghdadi doctor. (Watson, 27) In addition to the medicinal component, Arabs had a rich development of recipes and cuisine that strongly featured sugar at the time of its movement to Europe. In the Medieval Islamic world, sugar enriched many dishes: sour foods, fish, meats, and stews. Of course, pastries and jams especially were a “paradise of sugar”, using syrups made of white sugar and crystals of colored sugar. Specific sweets using sugar such as stuffed cannoli, squash jam, caramelized semolina, jelly, among others. In Europe, the names of a number of several medieval dishes reveal their Arab origin. (Zaouali, 44)
“The decades that followed the Moors’ conquest of the Iberian Peninsula brought in a dominant Arab influence—in culture, food, and drink, but especially in the introduction of sugarcane-based sweet treats… And there the foundation was laid for sugar-cane based sweet treats of the world as well…In the history of sweet treats, few “events” had the impact on Western civilizations as did the near-800-year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muslim peoples. Their main sweet treat legacy—sugarcane” (Roufs, 304)
There was a further East to West transmission of food culture as well. Figures such as Ziryab, credited with the renewal of the culinary arts in Spain and Europe. In the ninth century, he moved from Abbasid Baghdad to the ruler’s court in Cordoba. He led a renewal of culinary understanding and elegance, introducing low tables, tablecloths, cups made from glass, and the succession of courses in a definite order, ending with a sweet dessert. (Zaouali, 41).
Picture 2: Fourteenth century manuscript document from Ibn al-Bitar’s “Book of Simples” depicting sugar cane.
The dispersal of Arab inspired sweets left a mark especially on Southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and Sicily; also transmitted to the Americas with later conquests of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Sweet dishes found in Mexico and Latin America such Bunuelos, Alfajores, and Arroz con Leche, were inherited from the medieval Arab chefs in Damascus and Baghdad. (Salloum, 8) The Arab legacy on sweet foods remains in modern day commodities, many deriving their name directly from the Arabic language. The word ‘Candy’ comes from the Arabic qandi, stemming from the Sanskrit khanda (piece of sugar). Sherbet, Syrup and Sorbet derive from the Arabic word shariba or sharab (to drink). The ubiquitous drinks Soda Suwwad (saltwort), Coffee (qahwa), and Alcohol are all derived from Arabic. Other food term that originate from Arabic, include fruits and vegetables such as Lemon, Lime, Orange, Shaddock, Apricot, Artichoke, Spinach, as well as spices such as Sumac, Saffron, Carob, Caraway, and Tamarind. Rice and pasta were also transmitted to Europe via the Arabs (Watson, 23). Marzipan and sugar decorations were documented in the Middle East centuries before its appearance in Europe, especially in festive times such as Ramadan. (Mintz, 88).
When it comes to bean-to-bar chocolate companies, Hotel Chocolat is certainly one of the most distinguished. The Hotel Chocolat website offers a plethora of information about the brand, but what seems to stand out the most is that this company is not simply a maker of fine chocolate. This company is an architect of experiences, and these experiences are all founded in the company’s commitment to growing its own cocoa on the island of St. Lucia. Even the logo on the website reads “Hotel Chocolat British Cocoa Grower”. The experiences that this carefully grown cocoa sponsors range from entry to the Hotel Chocolat “Club”, a subscription chocolate service starting at about 10 British pounds per month, to private parties and reservations at their restaurants and “cocoa bar cafes”, to a stay at their resort in Saint Lucia. These amenities are extensions of the original craft confections of Hotel Chocolat, bringing the idea of chocolate tourism into a quite literal sense. Loyal customers of Hotel Chocolat might choose to follow the company across the globe for an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience, all aimed at an experience in which you can “experience cocoa like never before” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017).
While this company seems to have an incredibly nuanced grasp of the importance of changing the agricultural traditions surrounding the production of chocolate, elite model of quality assurance, and thorough commitment to customer accountability, it appears to be perpetrating certain chronic illnesses of the chocolate industry as well. Certain aspects of the Hotel Chocolat’s agricultural model are troublesome, namely in certain decisions that the company made in regards to their ethics policy, as well as the very location where they decided to set up shop. Additionally, Hotel Chocolat seems to cater to an elite, establishing a binary of fine chocolate consumers and cocoa producers that unfortunately does little to update the status quo of cacao that has been established over centuries. In the following post, I will first examine the rise of Hotel Chocolat in historical context, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and recommend certain changes that might bring Hotel Chocolat closer to what they describe their goals to be.
First of all, it is crucial to begin with a thorough understanding of the historical trajectory of Hotel Chocolat. While the company began selling chocolates online in 1993, the first storefront opened in 2004, founded by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, two entrepreneurs set on “making chocolate exciting again” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017). Taking a step back, it is crucial to ask what was happening with chocolate at this point in time, and what had gotten it there. Why was there a need to make chocolate exciting again? In colonial Europe, when chocolate was first brought to the Europeans, it was an expensive and special luxury, one that only the ruling class could afford. As Coe and Coe describe it, “it had been an elite drink among the Mesoamericans, and it would stay that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Chapter 5). England, uniquely, was a more entrepreneurial society, and therefore shopkeepers and businessmen were able to pedal their wares to the larger population, although it was still the mostly upper class and well to do that could afford chocolate in the beginning (Coe and Coe, Chapter 5). Thus, even in its earliest stages, chocolate in England was diverging from its traditional role as sumptuous luxury. As Professor Martin and her colleague Sempak explain, by the 1800s, chocolate was for everyone, due to a plethora of revamped factors which had maximized efficiency of the treat for mass production (49). One of these newly cheapened factors was of course, sugar, which by 1900 provided “1/5 of calories in an English diet”(Mintz 6). While the price of sugar has certainly fluctuated over time, as exemplified by Figure 1, in 2004, the year of Hotel Chocolat’s birth, the price of sugar was extremely low, and this was not a fact that was wasted on the company’s founders.
In their story, the company explains that “as sugar prices have dropped, British chocolate has focused increasingly on sweetness… Today sugar is 20 times cheaper than cocoa”, and later they even explain that their motto is “More Cocoa, Less Sugar.” With this in mind, it seems that perhaps Hotel Chocolat, in its founding, was not only intent on creating a high quality brand, but also moving back to the original vision of chocolate as a food for the elite. In it’s mission statement, Hotel Chocolat describes sugar as “cheap”, citing its qualities of being “sweet”, and “flavor-dulling”, and contrast this image with their abundant use of cocoa, which they describe as “nuanced”, and “fine”. This distinction between simple and complex, basic and fine, seems to be creating a strict binary. There is mass-produced chocolate for the masses, and then there is Hotel Chocolat, for the higher class individual, in need of an elevated experience.
Additionally, as mentioned before, the company’s commitment to growing its’ own cocoa for its chocolate, restaurants, cafes, and hotel is the backbone of what makes Hotel Chocolat unique. The company owns a plantation in St. Lucia, and is proud of a nuanced “Ethical Engagement” program by which they procure all of their cocoa—their answer to an inability to participate in Direct Trade, which they explain on their website that they are ineligible for (Hotel Chocolate 2017). The company bought the Rabot Plantation is St. Lucia in 2006, and has been growing their own cacao and working with farmers on the island ever since then (Hotel Chocolat 2017). In historical context, this was an incredibly business savvy method. As Martin and Sempak explain, the 1990s were wrought with revelations of the worst forms of child labor, and individuals searching for ways to get their chocolate fix without exploiting vulnerable populations (51). Therefore, by taking production into their own hands, Hotel Chocolate was able to make certain that certain exploitations were not occurring, and offer their clientele a clear conscience in consumption.
Since the purchase of this plantation, the company has continued to thrive. Along with the hotel, the company has 92 cafes, 2 restaurants, and a seemingly endless selection of unique, handcrafted chocolates. As the Telegraph reported last year, Hotel Chocolat went public on the London stock exchange at a value of 150 million pounds (Yeomans and Chan).
With this in mind, it is now possible to take a look at the ethical implications of the company. One thing that is truly incredible is Hotel Chocolat’s “Engaged Ethics” model (EE). The ultimate goal of EE is to “make life as a cocoa farmer truly sustainable”. Thus, this is a many-layered initiative. One of the staples of EE is the Hotel Chocolate Cocoa Growers Programme of Engaged Ethics (HCCAPEE). Within it, farmers are guaranteed a premium price all of a farmers harvested “wet” cocoa, which the company specifically prefers over the dry, fermented product, preferring to complete that step themselves in-house. Hotel Chocolat explains that prior to this program, St. Lucian farmers were subjected to exploitive prices from middlemen and untrustworthy vendors. Under HCCAPEE, a fixed price above fair trade, which is $.75 kg/wet and $1.88/kg dry, which is 28 cents hire than the world trade price. Other perks of the program are access to Hotel Chocolat’s fine quality seedlings, quick turnaround for payday, easy drop off sites, fair measurements, and a local consultant who helps with the process. Membership is free to all cocoa farmers on the island. What is one of the most striking aspects of this program is the fact that the company guarantees to pay a fixed price for all cocoa produced by a farmer, giving the farmer security in income even if there is an issue with the season’s harvest. Additionally, in its business model, Hotel Chocolat cites an even greater goal, which is positively impacting the entire agricultural sector of St. Lucia. Hotel Chocolat explains a greater goal “to use knowledge and skills to help formulate sound agricultural policies and laws; to challenge and correct untrue statements about the agricultural industry and to foster dialogue among agriculturists, other professionals, landowners, and the public regarding agricultural policies” (Hotel Chocolat 2017). With nearly 168 cocoa farmers now taking part in the program, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is indeed working towards a more ethical future for the agricultural future of St. Lucia (Hotel Chocolat 2017).
However, some distinctly important issues emerge on closer analysis of the Hotel Chocolat model. First of all, as mentioned previously, the company does place a premium on using trope that separates low quality chocolate from high quality, implying a social class divide along with it. Words like “luxury,” “private,” “distinctive,” “fine,” and more dominate the language on the company website, making it clear that this chocolate is of the highest caliber. As Robertson explains, chocolate companies have historically focused marketing to a “refined” taste palette, suggesting that a high quality of chocolate is meant for a high class individual (26). For example, in a Rowntree marketing campaign, advertisements for Black Magic were utilized high-class women, emphasizing luxury and expense. When Rowntree advertised their lower cocoa content chocolate, the Dairy Box, they used words that emphasized cheapness and accessibility (27). This is practically identical to the binary set up by Hotel Chocolat in its description of their product. Thus, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is perpetuating a chocolate class distinction, one of the more serious issues that the chocolate industry faces today.
Additionally, while the HCCAPEE program is undoubtedly doing some fantastic things, there are certain critiques to be found there as well. One of the most glaring issues to me comes from the fact that the company asks its farmers to sell their cocoa to them “wet” rather than “dry”. This means that the farmers are not being trained by Hotel Chocolat in the artisanship of fermentation, and are thus kept at a level of crude labor, with little opportunity for growth. Hotel Chocolat defends itself, stating that buying it wet allows the farmers to do less work and receive the same payday, and even claims that if a farmer is interested in fermentation, Hotel Chocolat will send an inspector to their facility. However, there is no evidence that any farmers partake in this option. Therefore, farmers in the Hotel Chocolat system stay at just that- farmers. Something that immediately comes to mind is Berlan’s concept of “unfree” labor. Berlan explains that in Ghana, farmers and their children have “varying degrees of agency over their lives,” and that this is what sometimes results in individuals having no other choice but to seek out labor on cocoa farms (1094-1095). Hotel Chocolat themselves explains that St. Lucia’s cocoa industry was riddled with poverty, and this historical context makes it difficult to believe that farmers on the island had options besides participating in the HCCAPPEE program.
The last critique I offer looks at HCCAPEE’s policy of only allowing cocoa farmer’s to experience the benefits of the program. As the CIA’s world fact book presents, St. Lucia’s agricultural industry is largely based off of bananas, with this commodity making up 41% of the country’s exports (CIA 2017). If Hotel Chocolat were truly committed, as they claim to be, to improving the agricultural situation of St. Lucia, then they would be hard pressed to find a better medium than by including the banana farmer’s in their program.
After studying the company, I feel that in order to truly meet its goals, several key changes should be put into action. First of all, the distinction between cheap and expensive should be diminished. By perpetuating an elitist mindset with chocolate, they take away from their commitment to incredible chocolate, and instead, create a vision that lacks diversity. As chocolate connoisseur Chloe explains, “chocolate is like music or friends, each person must make his own opinion and those opinion evolve” (Williams and Eber 146). With this in mind, I think that Hotel Chocolat should focus more on taste preferences between the individual, rather than the exclusivity of the chocolate itself. An integration of testimonials from their own workers in St. Lucia would go a long way to show that Hotel Chocolat is not about where you come from, or what you do, but rather, the kind of chocolate you love. Second, I would be thrilled to see some sort of chocolate academy launched on the Rabot Plantation. If Hotel Chocolat committed itself to providing farmers with unique, valuable skills, then farmers may have more autonomy over their own lives, which would be a fabulous improvement from the current situation. Lastly, I think that Hotel Chocolat needs to actively recruit banana farmers to diversify their farms with the company’s cocoa seedlings. This would provide support to the St. Lucian agricultural sector, and give Hotel Chocolat an even greater opportunity to make an impact, all while crafting delicious chocolate.
In ending, Hotel Chocolat’s Engaged Ethics program is a fabulous step in the right direction for the future of ethical chocolate making, and certain tweaks could make it an even more efficient initiative.
Armstrong, Ashley. “Hotel Chocolat Enjoys a Sweet Start after IPO.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 12 July 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-100. Print.
“Chocolate Gifts & Luxury Presents.” Hotel Chocolat – Luxury Chocolates and Gifts. Hotel Chocolat, 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
CIA. “The World Factbook St. Lucia.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D and Sampeck, Kathryn E (2015) The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. SOCIO.HU, 2015 (No. 3). pp. 37-60.
Robertson, Emma. (2009) Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.
Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. Print.
There is no doubt that cacao was highly valued in Mayan culture, intertwined with economics, culture, religion, and ritual. Cacao was abundant and valuable, and the numerous cacao-producing regions on the coast were hubs for trade. The Yucatán, on the other hand, does not have an environment suitable for cacao trees. Yet despite this, the Yucatec Maya revered cacao so much that they found a way to overcome their climate’s cacao-growing challenges and cultivate it in sinkholes called cenotes (Coe and Coe 46). These sinkholes could sustain a small number of trees, but not nearly as many as the large plantations to the south, which suggests that profit was not a motivating factor. The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.
There were a number of rich cacao growing region in the pre-Conquest era, including the Chontalpa, the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas and Guatemala, and Boca Costa (Coe and Coe 45). The regions had sufficient rainfall and nutrient rich soil, enabling them to sustain significant cacao plantations. The Yucatán, on the other hand, has a dry climate and rocky soils, and as a limestone plain with virtually no rivers, it has typically not been deemed suitable for cacao cultivation (Gomez-Pompa 250). However, scattered in this region are humid cenotes which the Maya put to their chocolate-growing benefit. Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water and soil, which create a humid ecosystem where cacao can grow naturally. Because they are saturated, the typical challenges of the lack of rainfall and the dry season can be overcome (Gomez-Pompa 250-251). Though these cenotes had the right environment, they were not on the size scale to run plantations. To put things in perspective, a Kuyul sinkhole where cacao was found has a depth of 40m and a diameter of 240m, which can be visualized in the image below (Gomez-Pompa 251-252). According to Spanish sources, they were the private property of wealthy lineages (Coe and Coe 46). Cultivation of these small groves of cacao only produced a little fruit, unlike large plantations, so monetary gain was likely not the motivating factor for this small-scale cultivation.
The cultivation of cacao in cenotes was motivated by the its representation as a status symbol for the wealthy class. Cacao had a long history of ties to economics and high social status, given its use as a currency, a noble drink, and a ritualistic offering. Cacao has been discovered in the tombs of prominent rulers, accompanying other luxurious items in funerary tradition (Coe and Coe 35). The cacao tree was also used to depict a Mayan ruler’s mother, Lady Zac-Kuk, at the ruler’s burial site, associating the royal lineage with the cacao tree (Lecture 2/1). Given this history, it makes sense that cacao itself was an important indicator of wealth and power for the Maya. For the families that owned the cenotes, the cultivation of cacao in their groves represented their upper socioeconomic status. The prestige that is associated with cacao justifies its use in the cenotes of the Yucatán.
Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also evidences the spiritual importance of cacao. A painted capstone from the Temple of the Owls in Chichen Itza, which is shown below, depicts the spiritual significance of cacao and the cenote. In this artifact, the Maya god Kauil, who is the lord of sustenance and of royal descent (Coe and Coe 46), stands on the mouth of a serpent while carrying a plate with offerings. The presence of the god Kauil, given his connection to royal descent, points to the association between the cacao and cenote and the noble and powerful lineages (Gomez-Pompa 253), supporting the notion that the cenotes were a symbol of wealth and power. In the capstone, as Simon Martin describes, Kauil emerges from the underworld, which is depicted as a cenote, in pursuit of the heavens above (174). Cacao pods hang as if naturally growing from both the heavens and the underworld. The god’s expression of “rescuing” the seeds from the cenote and their “gifting to heaven and earth” in this scene depict the significance of the spiritual value of cacao (Martin 175). Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also indicates the spiritual importance of cacao, which is demonstrated by the capstone from the Temple of the Owls.
The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao. Cacao is deeply intertwined with wealth and social status in Maya culture, and the use of cenotes is no exception. Despite the dry and rocky conditions in the Yucatán, the Maya discovered and practiced a cultivation of cacao in cenotes to demonstrate their wealth and to uphold the sacred importance of cacao. The effects of these practices are still with us today, as wild cacao trees continue to grow in cenotes, and chocolate beverages are consumed during contemporary celebrations.
Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Gómez-Pompa, Arturo, José Salvador Flores, and Mario Aliphat Fernández. “The sacred cacao groves of the Maya.” Latin american antiquity (1990): 247-257.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 2/1: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 February 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Simon. “Cacao in ancient Maya religion: first fruit from the maize tree and other tales from the underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao (2006): 154-183.
Image 1: A shelter for internally displaced persons during the Ivorian civil war (Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Cocoa has been a major source of wealth as well as one of the major causes of chaos in Africa. The conflict over cocoa resources disrupted the larger political struggle; it created ethnic and socio-economic instability, which became the basis of civil war in countries like Cote d’Ivoire. In 1960, Cote d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) won its full independence from France and Félix Houphouët-Boigny became the first president of the independent country. The new Ivorian president welcomed immigrants and made Ivorian land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. In this decision lies the secret of the economic growth of Cote d’Ivoire and the causes of its downfall.
This essay will argue that literature has tended to focus more on the trade and market issues related to cocoa instead of focusing on dynamics that are largely relevant to the local African context, such as violent political conflicts caused by cocoa farming. Cocoa producing countries in Africa have suffered several outbreaks of conflict, especially in Cote d’Ivoire between 2002 and 2011 which resulted in the death of 3,000 people , yet the role played by these countries in the global chocolate industry is little known. Furthermore, numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. This essay will provide a deep investigation into violent political conflict caused by cocoa farming in African countries by looking at the example of Cote d’Ivoire. Historical complexity and the current state of conflict will be examined. Finally, this essay will conclude with recommendations for contemporary cocoa industry and regulatory organizations on how to tackle such conflict.
Image 2: Culture du Manioc – Côte d’Ivoire (Public Domain)
History of Cocoa and Chaos in Cote d’Ivoire
It was late 19th century when Africa began producing cocoa on a significant scale. The first recorded large-scale production was in the 1880’s from Portuguese plantations on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe . As noted by the 2004 Anti-Slavery report, these cocoa plantations run by French colonists became infamous for using slaves, despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875. Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to Sao Tome and Principe islands.The low oil and rubber prices in Cote d’Ivoire encouraged people to cultivate cocoa and the proper cultivation began by 1890’s .
The history of cocoa and related violence goes back to 1900’s with French authorities “corrupting local chiefs, evicting communities from forests in the south and forcibly displacing tens of thousands of people, mainly from the north and from Burkina Faso to work on the cocoa plantations”, as claimed by the Global Witness report. The report also claims that small farmers protested against the higher cocoa prices paid to the French plantation owners. During this period of time, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a cocoa farmer himself formed an agricultural union called Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA) in 1944 and was elected as Côte d’Ivoire’s representative to the French parliament. After spending two years in French parliament, Boigny was able to secure a law in 1946 ending forced labor in Cote d’Ivoire . The ban on forced labor happened at the same time as the cocoa prices were high on the world market. This resulted in large portion of population moving to the forested area of Cote d’Ivoire to cultivate cocoa. Due to his extreme popularity, Boigny was elected as first president of independent Cote d’Ivoire in 1960.
Under the administration of President Boigny, hundreds of thousands of immigrants came in search of land to cultivate cocoa. As Orla Ryan recalls in her book, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, some came from Boigny’s own ethnic group, the Baoule. A large portion of farmers came from Northern Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali. For years, the indigenous tribe, Bete, welcomed and worked alongside migrants and foreigners from Burkina Faso and Mali to cultivate cocoa. Many Ivorians moved to big cities to be part of the new urban economy. They sell or rented their lands to the foreigners who wanted to farm them and plant cocoa. With thousands of cocoa farmers, Cote d’Ivoire produced some 67 000 tons to 880 000 tons of cocoa from 1960 and 1989, which made it world’s largest producer of cocoa. However, the economic growth of the country was also the beginning of the hostile relationship between host and migrant populations.
Map 1: Cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire by Global Witness Report
The country accounted for around 40% of world cocoa production and cocoa became the economic resource of the country, representing on average 35% of the total value of Ivorians exports, worth around $1.4 billion.  To make country open to foreigners, President Boigny issues a statement saying, “The land belongs to he who cultivates it”. This led to the ownership of big portion of land by immigrant population. However, the world price of cocoa was falling which created an atmosphere where foreigners were not welcome in Cote d’Ivoire anymore.
Adding to the problem, in 1933, after 33 years in power, President Boigny died and as did his economic policies. A long government policy to welcome foreigners and to give land to those who want to cultivate cocoa was changed when Laurent Gbagbo, from Bete tribe, was elected as the president. Confronted with a crumbling economy, Gbagbo used his presidency to reinvigorate the Ivorian citizenship rights, attempting to build a campaign by arousing Ivorian patriotism and nationalism. The newly elected president declared that the land given to the settlers under President Boigny cannot be claimed by them and should be returned to the native Ivorian owners.
As Mitchell writes in his paper, Rethinking the Migration-Conflict Nexus: Insights from Côte d‟Ivoire and Ghana, this policy of Gbagbo was central to the conflict and was deeply embedded in the rise and fall of the country’s cocoa sector.Much of the cultivated land was allocated to the foreigners at the time, which made it almost impossible for them to leave their crops. These foreigners became the victims for the financial crisis encountered by the native Ivorians and came under extreme pressure to leave the country. In 1990, non- Ivorians lost their right to vote thus deprived of their right to claim any land.
In 1998, law was passed declaring that only people of Ivorians nationality could own rural land. The law posed several problems for the thousands of immigrants who had cultivated and owned the cocoa crops for generations. The land purchased under President Boigny was rather informal which was often affirmed through handshakes or poorly written documents. Now in legal terms, such informal agreements meant nothing. Riots took place between the foreigners and natives in the west of the country, where most of cocoa was cultivated. The operation to seize land from the foreigners was launched, fueling violent tension between the communities. For the next decade, Cote d’Ivoire was split into two parts: the rebels controlled the north, while the government controlled the south. Where once the fight was over gold and diamonds, cocoa became a weapon of war.
According to a report by United Nations Human Rights Watch, between 1,500 and 2,500 Liberians fought for the government of Côte d’Ivoire, while almost 1,000 were thought to have fought among the ranks of Ivorian rebels. Human right abuses were committed by conflict over land ownership. By the end of 1999, about 15,000 Burkinabe and northern Ivorians left the country in a bloody conflict between migrants and native people.
Image 3: Armed Ivorians next to a French Foreign Legion armored car, 2004 (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)
With the new nationalist concept, President Henri Konan Bédié, successor of Boigny, distinguished between “foreigners” and “true Ivorian”. The concept was incorporated into the new electoral code in 1994, which stated that candidates of the Presidency and for Deputy in the National Assembly must be Ivorians by birth, with Ivorian parentage, having neither renounced Ivorian citizenship nor taken the nationality of any other state.  This law was seen as a deliberate effort to prevent Bédié’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, from the presidential elections. Ouattara was Muslim and had Burkinabe origins.In excluding Ouattara from presidential elections, the northerners perceived this as a systematic discrimination. As a result of this, nearly two million Burkinabe (most of them cocoa producers) found themselves subjugated.
Economic stagnation caused by the falling prices of cocoa resulted in a coup in 1999 led by General Robert Guei who ousted President Bédié. When the presidential elections took place in 2010, after years of postponement, the country’s second civil war broke out, claiming the lives of more than 3,000 people.
Role of Cocoa
Cocoa accounts for a significant proportion of the Cote d’Ivoire government’s budget as well as the conflict. The Ivorian economy and especially the trade of cocoa lack transparency and accountability and involves significant amount of corruption. An estimated 10% of Ivorian cocoa production is now under the control of the rebels. These rebels charge indirect tax on the cocoa trade. The conflict in Cote d’Ivoire caused a sharp increase in the price of world cocoa. For example, in October 2002, after the coup attempt, the price of cocoa reached its highest level since the 1970’s and 1980’s at $2,367 per ton. 
According to a 2007 report by Global Witness and World Bank, some leading national cocoa institutions have contributed to the war by providing the government with “money, vehicle and weapons”. As noted by the report, these contributions were made at the same time as the government forces were conducting worst human rights violations. Furthermore, government and rebel leaders in Cote d’Ivoire siphoned off millions of dollars from the cocoa industry to finance the 2002-03 civil war. According to the report, the Ivoirians government received more than $58 million from institutions and cocoa revenues, while the rebel forces pocketed about $30 million since 2004 in taxes and revenues. The profits generated from the cocoa sector remain potential weapon for the conflict and little has been done to break the link between cocoa institutions and armed groups.
Image 4: Displaced Ivorians queue for food at a UNHCR distribution site in Liberia (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)
Following are few recommendations for cocoa industry and regulatory organizations such as United Nations:
Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire should perform extra considerations on their purchase to demonstrate that they are not providing money that is being used in the war effort, which results in human rights violations. These companies should make their purchase more transparent by publishing the information on how the cocoa was imported from such countries. Especially, if the cocoa was purchased from the areas controlled by government or rebels, how much direct and indirect taxes were paid. These cocoa-buying institutions should also publish information on the locations of their bank accounts (as most of them have off-shore companies) and should publish annual audit reports.
Organizations such as United Nations should be more serious about this conflict. United Nations should apply sanctions on individuals responsible for sending money to promote this conflict. United Nations should hold more Peacekeeping missions in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire . An oversight of the natural resources under United Nations should also be established.
Cote d’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960 under the leadership of President Boigny. During his administration, Boigny welcomed immigrants and made Ivoirians land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. Cote d’Ivoire witnessed a boom in its economy and became world’s largest cocoa producer. The production of cocoa relied on the immigrants who mostly came from Burkina Faso and Mali. To ensure labor rights, President Boigny extended their right to live and gave a decree ensuring ownership of the land they cultivated. As the cocoa prices fell around 1980s, the government replaced taxation with subsidies for the immigrants. The foreigners faced hostility from the natives. Between 2002 and 2011, Cote d’Ivoire suffered several conflicts mostly between the government and the cocoa farmers in the north. This led to the bitterly contested election in 2010, whose outcome led to the Second Ivorian Civil War. Around 3,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. For the past decade, both sides in the conflict-government and rebels-have benefitted from significant corruption through cocoa trade. Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire and such other countries should ensure that the money from cocoa trade is not fueling the conflict.
Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed, 2011. Print.
 Clarence-Smith, W.G. & Ruf, F., “Cocoa pioneer fronts: The historical determinants”, Clarence-Smith, W.G. (ed.), Cocoa Pioneer Fronts Since 1800, the role of smallholders, planters and merchants, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996
Sustainability within the cocoa industry has become an increasingly common buzz word, but it is a term more often than not kept vague and unqualified in order to obfuscate the amount of progress that the industry has made in regards to sustainability in regards to issues that stretch from agricultural methods to fair labor practices. While initiatives, public statements, and advertisements released by cocoa corporations of all sizes often address issues of sustainability, it is often a marketing ploy to engage with socially conscious consumers as opposed to a goal to actually improve flaws in the cocoa supply chain. How many schools have chocolate companies claimed to have built in places like West Africa, and how does that exactly improve the lives of underpaid farmers? The following video, produced by Fair Trade America introduces the range of initiatives the company claims through the filming of seemingly daily life at a cacao cooperative in West Africa.
A plethora of Fair Trade initiated programs market themselves in manner to emphasize that they have increased the well being of local farmers and their families, is not made clear how financially and programmatically they have been achieved. It is important as consumers who are subject to the marketing campaigns that make companies appear more socially and economically responsible to be able to weed out superficial attempts at sustainability from those that may make a difference, for better or for worse, in order to better make informed decisions. This paper aims to demystify the definition of sustainability within the cocoa supply chain- sustainability from the perspective of farmers, specifically, and outline methods through which such sustainability can be achieved.
Unsustainable practices can be found in many aspects of cocoa production. In terms of horticultural and agricultural processes, very little is known about the cacao plant. It is a manually intensive plant to harvest, and in recent years it has become more and more fragile and susceptible to disease. This decrease in productivity due to the plant’s genetics, age, and horticultural practices have not only negatively impacted supply for large companies, but the lack of income has contributed to many sociocultural issues surrounding farmers in affected regions. The lack of agricultural sustainability, while not the only influential factor, has a direct relationship to the lack of financial sustainability of cacao farmers which ultimately leads to socially and culturally unsustainable practices like child labor. To better put this one plant into perspective, around 50 million lives depend on Theobroma cacao, and in the Ivory Coast alone, 15% of the country’s GDP is dependent on the raw good which translates to about 5% of the country’s households . To these farmers, according to Peter Laderach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who studies the effects of climate change in cacao farming region, the cacao trees are “’like ATM machines. They pick some pods and sell them quickly to raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life .’” A rift in the supply of cacao beans for these farmers could be catastrophic to their wellbeing.
The challenges that farmers face in reaching sustainable harvesting regimes range from poor knowledge of best farming practices, older plants with diminishing yields, increases in pest and disease, and the looming threat of climate change; oftentimes farmers face the entire range of issues. In Brazil, for example, disease like Witches Broom reduced production by 80% in the late 80s. Now, another disease, Frosty Pod Rot, has been spreading through Latin America while cocoa swollen shoot virus, the cocoa pod borer, black pod rot, and water mold affect plants in Africa . If Witches Broom and Frosty Pod Rot were to reach West African growing regions, from Latin America, where the majority of the crop is grown, the affects to cacao production would be devastating . Other factors negatively impacting crop yields include a very narrow band of growing compatible growing region along the equator and a diminishing gene pool due to a history of inbreeding. This lack of genetic diversity has exacerbated the species’ ability to combat disease and other hardships.
In light of these issues, many efforts have been taken, especially by large chocolate production companies, in order to produce more resilient plant specimens that will produce more pods and are more resistant to disease and pests. Many, like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s, have taken a scientific approach to studying the genetics of the cacao tree in order to increase yield. The video linked here quickly describes the race between teams of scientists at both Mars and Hershey’s to map the genome of the Theobroma cacao plant in order to find answers to disease and pest resistance. Nestle has also placed many resources and efforts into research and development of “super saplings” that will be able to increase yield. Nestle plans on giving away 12 million of these saplings to farmer in 2022.
Both the genetic sequence and selective breeding of cacao plants are crucial in identifying the ideal specimen. Tests done on naturally resistant plants and their offspring are helpful but slow, and the process is greatly sped up with the help of a mapped genome that better identifies where disease and pest resistance genes are located .
In all cocoa growing regions, 30-40% of crops are lost to disease and pests , and while the efforts to genetically modify the perfect cacao plant are helpful, there are a myriad of other factors that stand to undermine this single faceted approach. Soil fertility, for example, has decreased in many of the growing regions. In fact, oftentimes in abandoned coffee plantations that have moved for higher elevations in order to reduce instances of pest and disease, cacao would take its place as it is less fragile than coffee plants. Additionally, the lack of socio-political infrastructure in many cacao growing regions, for example, coupled with the fact that the cacao farming community is made up of tiny scaled operations in large numbers, makes it incredibly difficult to disseminate change across an entire region and making progress a slow endeavor. Overall, a lack of access to education affects all aspects of a farmer’s financial and social well being. From access to latest technologies to professional literacy, farmers are at a huge disadvantage in terms of setting themselves up for long term economic sustainability. The looming threat of climate change also further exacerbates all of the aforementioned issues.
Given the complexity of issues that stand in the way of sustainability for farmers, the focus of companies like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s in finding the ideal cacao plant to increase productivity and therefore profit margins for farmers and ultimately themselves is insufficient in the holistic improvement of the livelihoods of cacao farmers. Take the introduction of cacao to Vietnam as a case study; cacao plants and knowledge of how to plant and harvest them were well distributed to farmers in the 1980s, but after demand for cocoa disappeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall, farmers slashed their crops out of frustration . This demonstrates that access to plants and planting knowledge is merely one facet of many in building a more resilient livelihood out of cacao farming. The lack of control or input and general knowledge regarding the global market of cocoa production and consumption puts farmers at a huge disadvantage and at the mercy of chocolate makers.
In that respect, the work of smaller, niche chocolatiers like Taza and Equal Exchange are a great complement to the top down scientific research of larger corporations. Due to the scale of their operations, smaller chocolatiers are able to form closer relationships with their cacao producers and create a more mutually beneficial relationship that may raise prices for consumers, better reflects the price point of a sustainable supply chain. Shared knowledge about how cocoa should be grown and how cocoa products should be evaluated is still burgeoning, but one effort that Equal Exchange has been pushing is the development of testing and tasting labs within the region of cultivation to better bridge the knowledge gap between farmers and those buying their goods. How can farmers be expected to produce better quality cacao beans for a higher price if what they are producing is a very foreign product or is too valuable as an export to be consumed? The following video, while is a dramatization of reality, begins to hint at the disparity between those who cultivate and those who consume.
The point to take home isn’t that farmers are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but rather the roadblocks that stop farmers from understanding what happens to their goods after they leave their farms. It is beneficial for all when farmers are as fully aware of the chocolate making process so that they may be able to make decisions about how to plant and harvest for a better product as opposed to constantly relying on manuals and instructions from outside organizations and companies who do not always have the best interests of the farmers as a main priority. Sustainability for a farmer includes the ability to affect the economics of cocoa as opposed to perpetually being victim to the rising and falling prices of cocoa. Overall knowledge and more involvement are key factors in closing this gap.
While much of the focus in on farmers themselves in creating a more sustainable livelihood, there is much that can be done from the perspective of the consumer as well. Awareness and education about chocolate should not be limited to the various producers along the supply chain. A broader, collective conscious effort to understand how the cocoa products come to be lead to more informed consumers that apply pressure to the overall industry to be more sustainable and resilient. While seemingly altruistic, this approach is quite practical as well. The end goal is not for a consumer to feel good about being charitable and righteous, but rather the goal should be about creating a more economically, ecologically, and socio-politically chain where the weakest links at this point are disenfranchised farmers and disconnected consumers. Corporations and organizations in between have various approaches at closing the gap for a variety of reasons, but working towards a complex solution from both ends of the supply chain will be critical to the success of a more sustainable market.
It was one of the most mysterious, dramatic, and shocking events in the history of cacao – something you’d expect played out in an international, quickly spreading and highly deadly bio-contaminant thriller flick made for the silver screens. The Erin Brockovich-esque leads soundly cast in the likeness of a George Clooney or a Charlize Theron; the characters daring, passionate, and totally indignant at the devastation and injustice of it all.
But instead, quietly, it was the late 1980s in the northeastern state of Bahia, Brazil, where one of the world’s most robust cacao producing regions began to mysteriously disappear. Formerly a heavily forested region in the 18th-century, southern Bahia went from producing just “a few pounds of cocoa…into [cocoa being] the main export commodity in the state, contributing more than 50% of Bahia’s exports and more than 60% of the state’s total revenue by the 1970s” (Caldas & Perz, 2013, p. 149). Considered one of the richest epicenters of the Brazilian rainforest, southern Bahia’s biodiversity and unique environment offered a spectacular demonstration of cabruca agroforestry (whereby sustainability is cultivated by interspersing the planting of cacao trees among the forest), allowing for rapid and successful agricultural expansion of the Theobroma cacao throughout the region – impressive for one of agriculture’s most finicky specimens. It could only be described as nothing less than panic, then, when a strange pink growth began to appear on Bahia’s cacao plantations. Moniliophthora perniciosa, or,Witches’ Broom, had come to Brazil. Characterized as a fungus which spreads to the leaves of trees via spores, “the fungus attacks only actively growing tissue (shoots, flowers and pods) causing cocoa trees to produce branches with no fruit and ineffective leaves” (International Cacao Organization, 2015, para. 1). While initially causing the cacao tree to significantly reduce its production of cacao pods, the disease is ultimately fatal. Quick to spread in plantation-style settings, the containment of the disease in 1989 was initially successful after a huge eradication effort was launched by the Brazilian government in conjunction with CEPLAC, but their attempts ultimately proved futile:
[C]acao production fell in some localities by nearly eighty percent. Northeastern Brazil was devastated. The disaster was so great that it had a social impact. Farmers were not compensated for their loss of trees or revenue. People walked away from the land and went to the cities. Equipment lay unused. Even the ecosystem changed, as people converted their land to pasture instead of forest, and water washed the soil away. (Smallman, 2010, para. 8)
Most unsettling, however, was the mounting pile of evidence to suggest the introduction of the disease was intentional, as the “the first introduction had been [traced to] along a road, while the second was along a river. It also did not appear along the edge of plantations, but rather in their heart” (Smallman, 2010, para. 8). Speculations about the incident’s true vector begin with a 1991 New Scientist article stipulating the deliberate introduction of the disease due to political motivations, with a June 2006 Veja magazine article addressing the incident as “an agro-terrorist act…[with] the first goal…to disrupt the political power of the cocoa farmers, and [the] second, to promote socio-economic changes through elections and land redistribution in southern Bahia” (Caldas & Perz, 2013, p. 154).
For Brazil, it was the tragically perfect intersection of the micro and macro; the tragic collision of the quantitively microscopic and the qualitatively dispersed maleficusness of humans. How did we get here? How did the “food of the ancient gods” and the pleasure of the Hershey-kissed masses come to be the orphan crop brought to its knees? Between cacao’s innate agricultural particularities, its seemingly unyielding assault of biological predators, and centuries of injurious practices by humans, the micro and macro threats to not only the survival, but the betterment of cacao as a species and as an industry, can only be truly understood and addressed with a eye on its (literal) historical roots, and a simultaneous focus on its future micro and macro solutions.
The ‘Old-to-New’: A Journey from Small to Large
Growing only within the region 20 degrees north and south of the equator, Theobroma cacao, or the cacao tree, is well-known as an exceptionally finicky species. It requires constant moisture (but not too wet), lots of sunlight (but not too hot), and needs airflow between its branches (but not too strong) to produce optimal cacao pod yields, and reach optimal lifespan. As a cauliflory plant, the tree first flowers then produces fruit off of its main trunk/woody limbs after about 4-5 years, with the assistance of midges and birds for pollination, and under ideal conditions, one can expect a cacao tree’s total lifespan to be around 30 years. All in all, undisputedly, a “harsh mistress” (Presilla, 2009, p. 47).
Despite our knowledge of cacao’s current agricultural particularities, relatively little is known from pre-Conquest sources about the agricultural techniques and biological evolution of cacao within and then just beyond its original Mesoamerica homeland. Making its way across the Atlantic in 1528 and soon throughout Europe by way of the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, by the close of the sixteenth-century, “the first botanical descriptions of the chocolate tree appeared in print in Europe and the first designated shipment of cacao reached Seville, paving the way to the spreading of the use of chocolate” (Lippi, 2013, p. 1574) in Europe. With indigenous or ‘Old World’ Mayan and Aztec cacao applications ranging from a crude yet nutritional gruel or pleasurable drink of the male elites, to use in ritualistic ceremonies such as weddings and death rites, to widespread therapeutic and medicinal application throughout Mesoamerica (Martin, 2016a), developing ‘New World’ industrialized methods for processing cacao as well as a shift in worker wages in the nineteenth-century began to stimulate an insatiable mass-market for cacao. Once such identifiable event was with the emergence of C.J. Van Houten’s hydraulic press, which extracted the cocoa butter from cacao (leaving a compressed, cocoa cake that was easily incorporable into other liquids and solids), effectively reducing the cost of cocoa and making it widely available to the masses (Coe & Coe, 2013). Van Houten’s press, the subsequent series of nineteenth-century inventions and the simultaneous and explosive rise of milk and sugar transformed “what had been little more than a gruel of cocoa and additives…into a delicious drink and an attractive candy bar by 1900” (Satre, 2005, p. 14).
A Vicious Modern Cycle: Supporting the Weight of ‘Boom-and-Bust’
With the progression of cacao as a regionalized, sacred Mesoamerican “food of the gods” to a “[sugary] virtual necessity” (Mintz, 1986, p. 148) of Europe also came the transformation of cacao from a small-scale, family-based system of agriculture to a commercialized plantation economy needed to support the weight of a mushrooming export monoculture. This modern system of agriculture places at its heart only a very few commodity goods, making cacao into a “monocrop at the expensive of biodiversity” (Martin, 2016b), and opening the door to a slew of compounding micro and macro vulnerabilities and threats.
Having been virtually chased out of its native Central American habitat due to fungal diseases such as Witches’ Broom, in a confluence of the science, technology, and the agricultural worlds, industries have been searching for ways to breed cacao which are naturally resistant to the most virulent of offenders since the turn of the twentieth-century. Such a practice and process is known as selective breeding, whereby naturally resistant varieties of a species are identified, artificially pollinated, and the resulting progeny once again tested for resistance and selective breeding. Ultimately, the goal of the research centers performing this technique over time was to introduce new genes into the world’s fragile cacao crop, with success measured by both increasingly higher yields with new resistance or immunities to common cacao diseases and pests (Martin, 2016b).
Unfortunately, good intentions sometimes present unintended consequences:
The very efficiency of modern breeding and cloning programs turned out to be a mixed blessing. It rapidly caused the genetic basis of commercial cacao, already narrowed…to shrink more. After a few generations, farms planted with many clones of a few alleged wonder stocks proved more susceptible than anyone had guessed to new troubles and diseases–and some of the old ones as well…The general pattern is the same everywhere: they have become more uniform in makeup while losing the genes that provided ancestral populations with qualities necessary for their survival (for instance, resistance to disease) or for a spectrum of other traits. (Presilla, 2009, p. 49-55)
Additionally, the newfound bulk-growing capabilities of the trees seemed to increasingly reinforce the plantation-style agricultural model on cacao farms, leading to mixed macro benefits from a profit standpoint as well opening the door to unintended vulnerabilities of proximity.
Disease & Chemical Intervention
With genetically weakened cacao varieties now being produced/planted in staggering amounts within finite geographies, true to form, the ‘boom-and-bust’ nature of the macro commodity market helped to both cultivate new threats while simultaneously exacerbating preexisting micro vulnerabilities already in cacao’s wheelhouse:
[T]he supposedly hardy trees of the lower Amazon proved to be vulnerable to disease. Whenever large plantings were made, sooner or later a pest or disease would appear that would wipe out a crop within days or cripple a whole plantation within a year or two…[As a result] in most of the world’s cacao regions only small farmers remained to tend the chancy crop of tiny plots of ground with little between them and ruin. (Presilla, 2009, p. 47)
Brazil’s fatal encounter with Witches’ Broom in the late 1980s is only one example of the devastating and persistent paths of destruction taken by the seemingly endless list of cacao’s biological predators. Often referenced as cacao’s ‘Achilles Heel,’ the plethora of common disease names have come to “strike terror into entire communities or nations” (Presilla, 2009, p. 47), with many of the most notorious perpetrators outlined below:
(For a more comprehensive history, list of symptoms, epidemiology, and quarantine/resistance procedures of these diseases, visit the International Cocoa Organization’s (ICCO) cocoa pest and disease list.)
To further exacerbate yet continue the vicious cycle of unintended macro and micro threats to cacao between heavily commercialized plantation-style agriculture and the seemingly irrepressible diseases known to prey on the already genetically vulnerable crop, the “broad-spectrum pesticides used in farms to ward off diseases…are contributing to the deaths of bees and midges, thereby affecting the reproduction of cacao trees” (Martin, 2016b). Decidedly effective as a pest and disease control technique since the mid-twentieth century, the unintended and hence, ‘broad,’ effects of these chemicals end up targeting critical players in the reproduction lifecycle of the cacao crop, presenting a mixed conclusion as to the long-term economic and environment consequences of another problematic solution-turned-threat.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
1980s Bahia notwithstanding, the international cacao research community, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and various chocolate industry factions are beginning to unify around efforts to address the growing micro and macro threats facing cacao. Between cacao’s innate agricultural particularities, its unyielding assault of biological predators, and the ever-growing injurious practices by humans, the threats to not only the survival, but the betterment of cacao as a species and as an industry, can only be truly addressed with an integrated approach beginning with its historical successes, and a narrower focus on those modern tools and methods already available to us.
Genetics and Resistance Research
Unlike its commodity crop companions of coffee, tea, and sugar, the narrative and historical record of cacao is woefully incomplete, fraught with misunderstandings, biases, and outright neglect – garnering it the moniker of “the orphan crop” (Martin, 2016b). With little scientific research performed compared to other economically ‘vital’ crops, scientists today have made remarkable strides and discoveries in what we know – and thought we knew – about cacao due to international efforts of cacao genome mapping and DNA analysis by organizations such as the Horticulture Research Station of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA HRS/ARS).
Due to cacao’s nature as a cross-breeding/open pollination species, wading into the world of cacao genetics and logical classifications very quickly becomes a game of guessing, goose-chases, or outright dead-ends, making improvements on select traits all but impossible from a consistency standpoint:
Individual trees bearing beneficial traits fail to produce offspring that consistently bear the same traits. When farmers select seed from their best trees, the resulting trees are often of poor quality, produce low yields and are susceptible to diseases and insects. The only way to produce trees of uniform high quality is by vegetative propagation resulting in exact clones of the parent tree…Unfortunately, high-tech solutions are expensive, requiring government or industry support, and low-tech solutions are slow. Considering the intensive pressure from diseases and insects on the world cacao crop, these techniques fail to meet the farmers’ needs for high quality seedlings. (Bowers, Bailey, Hebbar, Sanogo, & Lumsden, 2001, para. 24-27)
After witnessing the utter devastation endured by the cacao farming industry in 1993 Bahia, international chocolate conglomerate, Mars, Inc., became involved in the USDA HRS/ARS initiative – a game changer for cacao genetics research. As a result of this partnership, there is now the very realistic prospect of fully mapping cacao’s genome, within which scientists can pinpoint favorable traits (e.g., pest/disease resistance, flavor markers, etc.) for a more accurate and targeted approach to selective breeding within the species. Consequently, due to this DNA analysis, “researchers don’t have to grow plants all the way to maturity and wait ten years to select the resistant progeny…[rather] they can confirm resistance in a year or two and quickly eliminate nonresistant trees” (Presilla, 2009, p. 54).
Closely coupled with the USDA HRS/ARS and Mars, Inc., Theobroma DNA analysis initiative is the creation of germplasm banks, whose goals include a better understanding of the dependancies and interrelationships between species of tropical ecosystems, protecting the biodiversity of cacao, and optimizing the scientific record to perform more accurate and ideal selective breeding:
DNA testing has made it possible to see that some of the world’s great germ plasm banks have often been full of mislabeled specimens—a hindrance to any scientific breeding program meant to exploit a particular cultivar’s precise qualities…[such as] certain kinds of disease or pest resistance. (Presilla, 2009, pp. 52-53)
A Return to Small Scale
Optimal. Ideally. These seem to be words and concepts no longer a foregone conclusion in the aforementioned narrative, but instead, the benchmark of where cacao agriculture would like to return to or strive for in the future. In rewinding to the conditions prior to an international industry operating around the boom-and-bust nature of commodity markets – that is, rewinding to and the reconsideration of ancient Mesoamerica – these concepts may not have been a foregone conclusion:
Prehistoric peoples in Mesoamerica had the correct approach to farming cacao. Relatively small cacao orchards enclosed by forest or set within small, diversified plots of various crops within the forest optimized the chances for high productivity. Pollination and containment of diseases and insects under these conditions may have been better than what is typically found in large, monoculture-type plantations today. The challenges of disease epiphytotics, insect infestations, poor pollination, and chemical fertilization were minimized because of the practices of the Mayans, Aztecs, and other [M]esoamerican people. They knew that growing “the food of the gods” in small groves reaped considerable harvests. (Bowers et al., 2001, para. 31)
A returning to a small(er)-scale cacao farming model by various cacao producers today has at the very least restated the conversation around long-term sustainable modes of cacao agriculture, defined by The American Cocoa Research Institute (ACRI) as “the production practices in which the small acreage farmer increases or maintains productivity at levels that are economically viable, ecologically sound, and culturally acceptable, through the efficient management of resources” (Bowers et al., 2001, para. 29).
Where From Here?
Given the utter scale of chocolate consumption globally with emerging markets and demand still increasing daily, it’s utterly daunting to visualize what a successful mitigation of micro and macro threats to cacao looks like, particularly given the short- and long-term solutions and initiatives on the table.
Far from depicting a truly comprehensive or exhaustive history or list on the micro and macro threats to cacao (let alone the inseparable and compounding issues of local/national/international politics, race, ethics, and economic “pressures to grow other crops” (Bowers et al., 2001, para. 8)) the aforementioned narrative is forwarded as an earnest starting point in analyzing many major threats to and some integrated solutions for a healthy and sustainable cacao industry worldwide. It is also important to note that any suggestion to return to many past successes through modern means is careful not to be viewed as either, 1.) A categorical cure-all for a highly complex, globalized web of historical and modern economic, socio- and anthropological factors, nor 2.) A suggestion to romanticize the past by throwing out what truly beneficial advancements the cacao industry has made since the time of the Mesoamericans. As Laudan so accurately argued, “if we romanticize the past, we may miss the fact that it is the modern, global, industrial economy…that allows us to savor traditional, peasant, fresh, and natural foods” (2001, pp. 42-43), including a bar of chocolate.
Despite its history, its evolution, and its successes and failures woven across centuries, cultures, and disciplines, it must be the responsibility of chocolate enthusiasts, academics, scientists, industry leaders, and stewards of sustainability today to continue uncovering and correcting the historical record on cacao’s micro and macro threats through ancient and modern strategies. By returning to aspects of cacao’s past equipped with modern tools, “gradually the many separate pieces of the giant puzzle are coming together” (Presilla, 2009, p. 56), in hopes for a better future.
Bowers, J. H., Bailey, B. A., Hebbar, P. K., Sanogo, S., & Lumsden, R. D. (2001). The impact of plant diseases on world chocolate production. Plant Health Progress, June. doi:10.1094/PHP-2001-0709-01-RV
Caldas, M. M., & Perz, S. (2013). Agro-terrorism? The causes and consequences of the appearance of witch’s broom disease in cocoa plantations of southern Bahia, Brazil. Geoforum, 47, 147-157. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.01.006
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2013c). Mars, Inc. Almirante farm director Martin Aitkin and a local farmer assess damage from a witches’ broom growth at the Luz de Maria farm in Uruçuca, Brazil [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/hjjx4w2
United States Department of Agriculture. (2013d). USDA/ARS, National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit (PGPRU) [Online Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/10781042875/
“[Sustainability:] It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do.”
— L. Hunter Lovins, founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions
The world of cacao production is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of sustainable yet profitable agricultural practices. Known as a particularly finicky species, cultivators of the Theobroma cacao have not only had to get creative in their farming practices in order to produce a sustainable and profitable yield of crops under less-than-ideal growing conditions, but are now feeling the brunt of climate change effects. With the list of ‘double-edged’ compensating agricultural controls (such as plantation-style (or bulk growing) farming, broad-spectrum pesticides, fertilizers, and deforestation techniques) used to equalize the rapidly changing environmental conditions continuing to grow (Martin, 2016), environmental best practices are anything but widespread in cacao producing regions. Recognizing the inseparability of sustainable agricultural and environmental practices and the financial security of cacao farmers, international chocolate companies are beginning to step-up to the social responsibility plate and take action to ensure the long-term success of the cacao supply chain in the global marketplace. Partnering with the Ivorian government’s Conseil du Café Cacao (CCC) and non-governmental organizations such as CARE International and Cocoa Life in 2013, Mondelēz International, Inc. – home of multi-billion dollar chocolate brands such as Toblerone and Cadbury – launched a virtuous consumership initiative to “help farmers increase sustainable cocoa production and create thriving communities in Côte d’Ivoire” (Mondelēz International, 2013, para. 1).
What’s come to be known as “the world’s most successful triangle” (Meyer, 2015), Jean Tobler’s iconic, pyramid-shaped chocolate bar debuted in 1899, Switzerland, to instant consumer success, and has continued to be on the forefront of cutting-edge product marketing and consumer trends:
Toblerone has always been a unique product in terms of its shape and history. However, you can only be successful in the long term if you nurture brand values…anticipate trends…invest in the brand and understand that sustainability is a part of the brand. We also have to prove this year for year with Toblerone. And in the end this is the basis for our success. (Meyer, 2015, para. 5)
Despite the fact that even today, every single Toblerone bar exported throughout the world is still manufactured from the company’s single chocolate factory in Bern-Brünnen, Switzerland, the company’s virtuous consumership marketing strategy for increased environmental sustainability has had global reach with consumers looking to reduce their ecological footprint. In a 2008 advertisement released by Toblerone, the company’s marketing team rather ingeniously employed the bar’s legendary triangular packaging and similarly unique notched chocolate contents to seamlessly integrate with a classically engineered concrete bike rack.
Stationed in front of a bright green grassy plot outside a somewhat nondescript yet modern building of complementary identity/branding colors, the Toblerone bike rack visually pops in the advertisement’s foreground, but fits comfortably and warmly within its setting. With its close framing, it’s difficult to get a true sense for the exact geographical location of the scene, but one could surmise it plays to a relatively affluent, modern and present-day, progressive and caucasian audience in Europe or North America, with the very presence of the bike rack playing to a consumer with a social conscience around sustainable transportation. The seamless incorporation of the Toblerone design to horizontally bleed into the bike rack’s actual functional design seems to directly lobby for the consumer to ‘support a company that supports sustainable environmental practices.’ With the bike slots both harnessing the likeness of the chocolate bar itself and bursting out directly from the chocolate packaging, Toblerone appears to be literally grafting its brand values via its branding to the larger conversation around climate change and aligning itself with the growing trend of sustainability (Martin, 2016) in cacao production.
It was with and in the same spirit of Toblerone’s 2008 environmentalist bike rack advertisement that the below chocolate advertisement was created.
In looking to harness the same visual, stylistic, and marketing aims of Toblerone’s bike rack advert, the above scene depicts a farm utilizing solar panels, closely integrating and grafting the company’s packaging design into the functional element of the solar panels. Playing again on complementary branding colors of the red barn and lush green grass, the Toblerone tube visually pops in the advertisement’s layout, but fits comfortably and warmly within its setting. Also targeted toward a present-day, progressive audience, this ad sets itself more rurally, directly addressing both a farming/agricultural constituency, as well as the socially conscious consumer aiming to reduce their environmental footprint. Horizontally integrating the design of the product into the design of the solar panel also directly correlates Toblerone brand values via its branding to the larger conversation around climate change; the narrative urging the consumer to directly ‘invest in a company that invests in the planet.’
Never a stranger to thinking and thriving ‘outside the box’ since 1899, Toblerone and its parent company appear to be getting-in on the ground floor of the growing environmental sustainability and virtuous consumership trends in cacao, and their message is not only landing with the consumer, but having a widespread impact on the communities it was intended to aid: Mondelēz International’s February 2016 report on its Cocoa Life sustainability program shows a reach across “six cocoa-growing origins…Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, India and Brazil…[totaling] 76,700 farmers in over 795 communities…[with] farmers’ incomes tripl[ing] since 2009…[and] cocoa yield[s] increased [by] 37 percent” (Mondelēz International, 2016, para. 1-2).
Martin, C. D. (2016, February). Lecture 4: Sugar and cacao. E-119: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture conducted from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Mondelēz International. (2016). Mondelēz international reports strong progress in cocoa life sustainability program [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.mynewsdesk.com/dk/mondelez-danmark/pressreleases/mondelez-international-reports-strong-progress-in-cocoa-life-sustainability-program-1324940
When we reach for that second chocolate chip cookie or place that Hershey’s bar in our shopping cart, we seldom think about the process or the origins of where these sweet foods come from. Chocolate owes its existence to the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which is predominately grown in West Africa. In fact, 70% of the world’s production of cocoa
comes from here (O’Brien 2010). Cacao trees produce cacao pods, which are carefully cultivated and cut from the trees without damaging the integrity of neither the pod nor the trunk. From these pods, we derive the cacao beans, which are further processed to become a variety of cocoa products. But while we largely categorize chocolate products as heavily processed and essentially artificial foods, it is important to acknowledge that chocolate comes from agricultural origins.
Just like any other plant or living organism, the cacao tree is susceptible to disease. It has been estimated that fungal diseases can “wipe out up to 80 percent of the cacao crop, and cause an estimated $700 million in losses each year” (O’Brien). This is obviously a major problem since much of the world depends on these trees to satisfy consumer demand for chocolate goods. So, in efforts to attack this problem, Mars, USDA-ARS, IBM, NCGR, Clemson University, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Indiana University and Washington State University came together on the Cacao Genome Project.
The goal of the Cacao Genome Project was essentially to sequence the DNA of the
cacao tree so as to “provide researchers with access to the latest genomic tools, enabling more efficient research and accelerating the breeding process, thereby expediting the release of superior cacao cultivars” (Cacao Genome Database). The preliminary release of the genomic sequencing in 2010 included 92% of the genome, with more work to be done. The Cacao Genome Database has made this information available to the public so as to provide people with the building blocks to conduct their own research as to how the
genome can be utilized to advance the health and growth of the cacao trees. Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, head of plant research at Mars, says they wished to make the information available without “intellectual property restrictions” (Pollack 2010). In terms of the Cacao Genome Project, this seems to be a case of “a little more knowledge never hurt.” This new found information opens doors to help “identify traits of disease resistance, enhanced yield, efficiency in water and nutrient use, as well as climate change adaptability among the world’s cacao trees” (Mars). With greater and more efficient production, Mars will have a larger access to cacao at lower prices. And since this information has been made public, a monopoly of the benefits of the genome sequencing is avoided so that everyone benefits.
At the time of the genome’s release in 2010, the worldwide demand for cacao exceeded production (O’Brien). With further research and the application of the already discovered information, we theoretically already hold the pieces to erasing this problem on the global scale. But perhaps more importantly, the implications these scientific discoveries have on the micro scale of the families whose lives depend on the cultivation of cacao will be of great benefit to their overall standard of living. More advanced methods and strains of cacao will yield greater profit for cacao farmers and remove much of the volatility of agricultural production, hypothetically helping to greatly reduce the likelihood of devastating losses.
The communal approach to bettering the cacao situation as a whole is something to be applauded. The scientific advancement of what is known about cacao will ultimately advance the lives of all those connected the production and consequently the consumption of chocolate, a food that has become an essential staple in the diets of modern culture.
“Cacao Genome Database.” Welcome to the Cacao Genome Project. Cacao Genome Project, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
“Innovate With Mars | Case Studies | Cocoa Genome Project | Mars.” Science and Innovation. Mars, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
O’Brien, Dennis. “Related Topics.” Sequencing of Cacao Genome Will Help U.S. Chocolate Industry, Subsistence Farmers in Tropical Regions. USDA, 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Pollack, Andrew. “Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.