Tag Archives: cacao farming

The Missing Story: The Spread of Cacao and the Popularity of Cocoa Production in Asia

It is no secret that chocolate was popularized in the Western world by the Europeans, particularly the Spanish, after discovering cacao in the New World. However, since Europeans began to dominate the chocolate industry, particularly relying on colonialism to exploit and export cacao from their colonies, the preeminent narrative has become one of widespread European production and consumption of chocolate. However, the historical focus on how chocolate spread from the European royalty to more broad audiences, such as the “common people” in Europe and in North America, limits the scope of understanding for the global popularity of cacao and chocolate production. The existing research tends to focus on chocolate as it spread from Europe to America, but this leads to a more narrow understanding of cacao and its popularity in other regions like East Asia.

The global narrative of chocolate cultivation, production, and consumptions begins in Mesoamerica. Cacao cultivation and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica during the early BCE era, and for the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations, cacao (or kakawa) was reserved primarily to produce drinks for the elite (although it also functioned as a form of currency) (Coe 2013, 78-81). Beginning around the early sixteenth-century, chocolate was introduced into the Spanish culture by Hernán Cortes and originally was similarly regarded as a popular delicacy of the European royalty. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe,” (Coe 2013, 125). Chocolate remained an elite drink in Europe during the Baroque Age, as it spread in popularity from Spain and Portugal to Italy to France. In fact, the French are credited with the invention of the silver chocolatiére, pictured below, which was a chocolate-pot used to produce and serve the chocolate beverage produced from cocoa. The chocolatiére is significant because the invention evolved from the Mexican practice of producing a cacao beverage using a wooden molinillo, also depicted below. However, the French took this concept and produced the silver chocolatiére in which the European nobles could consume their chocolate beverages (Coe 2013, 156-157).

18th century French silver chocolatiére pictured third from the left, among other styles and types of chocolate-pots.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2017-11-09_17-54-58_ILCE-6500_DSC09407_(26520185009).jpg

However, once chocolate spread to Britain in the seventeenth century, it also began to spread in popular consumption from the elites to the general public. Like the already-established popular coffee and tea houses, chocolate houses too began to pop up, one of which is depicted below. Chocolate houses were originally frequented by the British nobles and upper class citizens, as demonstrated by the noble style of dress (including the British wigs seen worn by the men in the image), as chocolate still cost more than did coffee (although not as much as tea). While chocolate was still an expensive commodity, the prevalence of the chocolate houses contributed to the spread of chocolate consumption from the elites to the masses as chocolate became popularized in British culture (Coe 2013, 167).

London Chocolate-house c.1708. Silver chocolatiéres can be seen on the tables, while British nobles (dressed accordingly) enjoy the delicacy. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg

Much of the existing literature on the global spread of chocolate focuses primarily on its path between South and Central America, Europe, and North America. In the 1660s, however, cacao began to spread not only to Europe but also across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and the South Pacific region (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Cacao cultivation was especially successful in the Philippines, which at the time was a Spanish colony: “They have brought from New Spain to the Philippines the Cacao plant,” Italian merchant and voyager Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri wrote of his travels to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. “[The Cacao plant] has multiplied so well, although it has degenerated a bit, that in a short while they can do without that of America,” (Coe 2013, 173). The Philippines was chocolate’s “one Asian success,” according to Sophie and Michael Coe; but cacao continued to spread beyond just the Philippines.

Map depicting the main routes for the spread of cacao globally, including to the Philippines and South Pacific/Southeast Asia regions. http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/

As pictured in the map above, from the islands of the Philippines cacao cultivation first spread south to Indonesia, where the suitable climate, vast unused land, and large and inexpensive labor supply made the two Southeast Asian regions prime for Spanish exploitation (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 93). Cacao cultivation grew in popularity in the Philippines and Indonesia specifically because their agrarian systems were characterized by the plantation sector, which excelled at producing tropical cash crops like cacao (Hayami 2001, 181-182).  Cocoa farming remained popular, however, because local farmers and large-scale plantation systems alike could cultivate cacao; the video below demonstrates that even now, cocoa farming continues to be popular in the Philippines, despite the global narrative about European production of chocolate and American consumption of chocolate.

Indonesia particularly grew in their share of the global cocoa market, while the Philippines began to grow in production of coconut oil instead (Hayami 2001, 190). Later in the nineteenth century, cacao spread from Indonesia westward across Asia and into Sri Lanka (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Not only was cocoa farming successful in the Philippines and Indonesia, the video below shows that ecological and technological advances allowed cocoa farming to become even more accessible, widespread, and environmentally conscious in the Philippines than it originally had been. So why does the narrative often stop at the introduction of cacao to the Philippines as a Spanish colony when there is so much more to the story? 

Although the widespread acceptance of chocolate in the Western world is a crucial element in the global history of chocolate, much of the existing research focuses solely on the European and North American cultivation, production, and consumption of chocolate as it spread from the elites to the masses. This leaves out an important element in the story of how chocolate rose to popularity in the global market: Asia, particularly regions in Southeast and South Pacific Asia, played a vital role in contributing to the successful cultivation and production of cocoa.

Works Cited

Chocolate House London C.1708. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.

“Cocoa Farming – The Good Chocolate.” Video, 05:33. Youtube. Posted by John Croft, January 20, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOgksl9DDqI.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: With 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot. http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

French Chocolatieres. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2017-11-09_17-54-58_ILCE-6500_DSC09407_(26520185009).jpg.

Hayami, Yujiro. “Ecology, History, and Development: A Perspective from Rural Southeast Asia.” The World Bank Research Observer 16, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 169-98.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, 72-99. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

The Importance of Agricultural Implications to the History of Cacao

            The history of cacao production involves a complex tale of many different players and factors, mainly economic and societal, from various cultures around the world. As important as the sociopolitical factors about the production of cacao are to the history of chocolate that we are studying in our coursework is, another factor that cannot be ignored is the agricultural history of cacao. I argue that the methods and techniques of cacao farming that have been developed over centuries of growing this crop have played an essential role in the continued global importance of chocolate that has persisted to present day. In the current climate—perhaps more than ever—we see how truly indispensable farmers and growers of food are to society. The hard manual labor, along with the technical skills required to grow cacao is an underappreciated piece in the history of chocolate. The individual and collective efforts of cacao producers who have continued to put in real work in the field to produce cacao are the unsung heroes of the chocolate saga. Without the efforts of these hard-working men and women—whether forced labor or voluntary—has shaped the entire social, political, and economic history of chocolate.

The Flowering and Fruiting Stem of the Cacao Tree

Cacao, like any other crop, has a set of environmental conditions that promotes best growing practices. The economic and political triumphs regarding chocolate are deeply affected by the environment needed to grow cacao. The cacao tree thrives in loose, clay-like soil, surrounded by shade trees, and prefers a hot climate typical of areas within 20 degrees north and south of the equator (Bartelink 7). The limitations of the proper growing conditions for cacao have affected not only where cacao is produced, but who reaps the benefits from its production. The fact that cacao was used as currency in pre-Columbian history further complicates the relationship between agricultural and economy, as cacao serves not only as a commodity, but as capital as well (Sampeck 2). Thus, those who produced cacao in these times, also produced a source of wealth. Even in instances where cacao is not used as a source of currency, but is strictly a commodity, the origin of production plays a role in power structures because of the colonial and imperial implications of controlling regions that produce cacao.

            The agriculture of cacao has developed and experienced changes throughout the many centuries that people have been tending to the crop. Like in many arenas, climate change has raised questions of sustainability and continuity in the agricultural practices surrounding cacao production. Though the changing environment will cause stress to cacao plants, researchers believe that the crop is resilient enough to adapt to these stressors, and will employ ways of increasing the resilience of this crop (Bunn 10). The effects of climate change on the production of cacao represents another way in which the agricultural history of cacao has had, and continues to have, direct effects on economic systems of production, as resources need to be funneled into research to improve the growing of this crop in order to ensure that the profitable production of cacao will continue in the future, despite environmental stressors.

A cocoa farmer on his farm in Ghana

The embedded video below shows several parts of the process of farming cacao, and exhibits some of the people who make the production of cacao possible. It is far too easy to forget the incredible amount of labor that is put into things we take for granted each and every day. As consumers of chocolate, and as citizens of a society that has benefitted from the production of cacao, it is the responsibility of each of us to recognize and appreciate the work that is put into a commodity that many of us consume on a daily basis. The agricultural history of cacao and the immeasurable work of the farmers and laborers who grow and cultivate cacao for the world’s consumption have shaped the history of chocolate as we know it. Without the essential work of these people, the political, social, and economic effects that the production and consumption of chocolate products have had for centuries would simply not be possible.

https://archive.org/details/cacao

            In times of stability as well as times of uncertainty, farmers work every day to provide for a growing society. For centuries, cacao farmers have done their part to meet the growing demand for chocolate, facing environmental, political, and many other struggles. Farmers remain a constant in the story of chocolate—an absolute necessity in the world of chocolate for centuries past and centuries to come.

Works Cited

Bartelink, E.J. The Cacao Planters’ Manual. London: Kirkland Cope 1884.

Bunn, Christian, et al. “Recommendation Domains to Scale out Climate Change Adaptation in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Climate Services, 2019.

Dahlgren, Bror Eric. “The Flowering and Fruiting Stem of the Cacao Tree.jpg. 1 January 1923. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Cacao_by_Dahlgren,_B._E._(Bror_Eric).djvu/8

Etteowora. “Cacao” . Internet Archives, 21 February, 2006. https://archive.org/details/cacao

Rberchie, Raphael. “A Cocoa Farmer on His Farm in Ghana.” 28 August 2014. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34989358

Sampeck, Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala.” Society for Historical Archaelogy, 2019.

Cacao’s Migration to Africa

The top 8 cacao producers of the world in 2016-2017. Note that 4 of these countries are in West Africa. Approximately 70% of the world’s cacao comes from these countries. (“World Cocoa Production by Country”)

It is a researched and documented fact that the cacao plant was first domesticated in South America, in the Amazon basin area (Zarrillo et al.). It is also well known that cacao had a deeply spiritual and religious status for the Aztecs and Mayans of Mesoamerica, and that the Europeans’ first major interactions with cacao occurred with the Spanish conquests of Mesoamerica in the 1500s (Coe and Coe). After that, early European colonizers profited off slave labor for their cacao farms in South America and the Caribbean (Leissle 37). Therefore, for most of documented history, the cacao plant was exclusively grown in Central and South America. Why, then, is 70% of the world’s cacao today grown across the ocean in Africa?

The first major location shift for the growth of the cacao plant was the movement to South America from the Mesoamerica region. After devastating the indigenous population in Mesoamerica thanks to European diseases and the overall violence of their colonization efforts, European colonizers from Spain and Portugal in particular chose to import slave labor from Africa to the Americas in order to work on the cacao farms. Areas like Venezuela and Brazil were easily accessible to ships from Africa as well as environmentally suited to the growth of the cacao crop, so the shift to planting cacao southward was, for the colonizers, easily justified. Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago were among the early primary suppliers for the European demand for chocolate (Leissle 36-37).


Cacao was first domesticated in South America, before the Mesoamericans cultivated it in Central America. (Zarrillo et al.)

It was over the course of the 19th century that the cacao farms spread to Africa, and by 1900, the small island off the west coast of Central Africa called São Tomé and Principe supplied a third of the world’s cocoa (Leissle 40) and half of the cocoa purchased by the chocolate giant Cadbury (Satre 19). So the shift from using South America as the primary source of the cacao plant to Africa was fairly slow, but evidently worthwhile, considering that Africa maintains its cacao dominance today. I would argue that, though the shift to planting cacao in Africa was partially practical (due to Central Africa’s cacao-friendly climate), the main impetus for relocating cacao farms was easy access to cheap labor coupled with imperial pressures from Europe.

Cacao can only be cultivated in certain parts of the world. (Lecture)

Important to note about the cacao crop is that it is very particular about where it is planted. As Satre notes in Chocolate on Trial, “[cacao] trees require a hot climate, sufficient rainfall, and a relatively low altitude, ensuring warm evenings,” so that cacao is best grown near the equator (13-14). Most of today’s top cacao growing countries in Africa lie very close to the equator, and in particular, São Tomé  is almost on top of the equator. As a result, Central and Western Africa have productive environments for growing cacao, but so do Central and South America. Therefore climate is not a sufficient justification for the transplantation of the cacao plant to Africa, although it was a necessary prerequisite.

Another, perhaps more significant, factor in the shift of cacao growth location had to do with South America’s inability to keep up with the rising demand for chocolate. Firstly, improvements in the development of edible chocolate products resulted in an upsurge of demand for chocolate; chocolate was less bitter and less culturally exclusive to the elite class, so more and more Europeans desired it. Secondly, cacao plants in South America, especially in Ecuador, were falling prey to witches’ broom, a disease which inhibits the cacao trees’ ability to produce healthy pods. The third and arguably largest factor in South America’s inability to match demand for chocolate was that, over the course of the 19th century, South American countries were becoming independent from their European colonizers and abolishing slavery in the region (Leissle 38-39). Without the imperial holds over their colonies and without the free labor ensured by the use of slaves, no more did Europe have guaranteed, cheap access to cacao from the Americas.

With the Americas gaining independence, European imperialism turned its eye toward Africa in what Leissle referred to as the “scramble for Africa” (39). One of the first instances of cacao reaching Africa occurred in 1822, when cacao seeds arrived in São Tomé from Brazil – both Portuguese colonies (though, in Brazil’s case, not for much longer). As previously mentioned, São Tomé sold a third of the world’s cacao by 1900, despite its tiny size; Leissle notes that “Slave labor made such tremendous output possible” (40). Officially, Portugal outlawed slavery in its colonies in the 1870s, but that did not stop São Tomé from capitalizing on essentially free laborers from Angola, even though those laborers were technically “contract laborers” (Satre 2). Eventually, São Tomé came under heavy scrutiny for its unsubtle slave labor use, but this did not stop other imperial European efforts to farm cacao out of Africa.

While the Portuguese colonies exploited laborers from Angola, the British began to farm cacao in Ghana – then known as the Gold Coast – with the “free laborers” there. Similarly exercising their imperial authority, the French relied on brute force methods in their African holdings to ensure optimal cacao growth, and they established heavy taxes in the Ivory Coast which essentially forced those farmers to grow cacao as an export crop in order to raise enough money to pay those taxes (Leissle 41-42). Over time, the shady labor practices dwindled, but the Ivory Coast and Ghana are left as two of the largest cacao producers (see the graph at top).

The Triangle Trade Route. (Wikipedia)

Possibly a major reason for the switch to farming cacao in Africa was the availability of “cheap” labor, i.e. slaves. Europeans were already exporting slaves from Western Africa to the Americas to work on the plantations there, once the indigenous population was sufficiently culled. This was part of the “triangle trade route”, with the other two legs consisting of produce transported to Europe and manufactured goods traded to Africa; see the visualization above. Once Europe began colonizing Africa and relocated the cacao crop there, an entire corner of the triangular trade route was removed. Now, European colonists could get their abundance of cheap or free labor essentially onsite, and harvested cacao could be exported directly to Europe. This saved the time and money it would take to transport slaves across the Atlantic to the Americas, and even more time and money it took to move cocoa back across the Atlantic to Europe. To the imperialists craving their chocolate and wanting to pad their pockets, this move was surely very rational.

Coe and Coe observe, “It seems supremely ironic that West Africa, from which so many hundreds of thousands had been torn against their will to work as slaves in the white man’s cacao plantations, should now be by far the world’s leading producer of cacao” (location 2860 in eBook edition). Perhaps it is less ironic that Africa should become such a key producer of cacao when one considers that cacao’s relocation to Africa brought the plant to the laborers, rather than bringing the laborers to the plant. That being said, cacao’s troubling past and present with poor labor practices should not be excused or forgotten, and the fact that early imperialists used slave labor to farm cacao in the past does not excuse modern exploitation of laborers in Africa.

That, however, is a topic for another time. We now see that the reasons for Africa’s early dominance as cacao producers are clear: firstly, Central/Western Africa’s climate, well-suited for the picky cacao crop; secondly, the interests and demands of imperial Europe; and, thirdly, the access to an abundance of cheap labor.

Works Cited:

“A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” Edited by Mark Christian, C-Spotwww.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020. (Multimedia source)

Coe, Sophie and Coe, Michael. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press, 2005.

Shahbandeh, M. “World Cocoa Production by Country from 2012/2013 to 2018/2019.” Statista. 16 July 2020, www.statista.com/statistics/263855/cocoa-bean-production-worldwide-by-region/. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020. (Multimedia source)

Wikipedia contributors. “Triangular trade.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_trade. Accessed 25 Mar. 2020. (Multimedia source)

Zarrillo, Sonia, et al. “The Use and Domestication of Theobroma Cacao during the Mid-Holocene in the Upper Amazon.” Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 2, no. 12, 29 Oct. 2018, pp. 1879–1888., doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0697-x.

Cacao Slave Trade

“CANDY!!!” This is what you hear kids of all ages scream when they find out they are rewarded with a delicious candy bar. In many ways we condition the children of society to behave for these treats. Adults and children alike are at the mercy of said delicacies which have been perfected by candy makers all around the globe and the influence candy does have is evident in the way it is advertised and marketed towards us. Children are bribed with these sweets during holidays, any time they receive high marks in school, and overall for just behaving in general. With that being said, it is almost tragic to think that in another part of the world, candy is one of the only ways a child can reward themselves with another day of life. More specifically the production of Cacao and how its successful manufacturing or lack thereof determines the fate of the children who help produce the candy we identify as Chocolate. In this post I will attempt to highlight the negative impact the slave trade has had on children in third world countries when it pertains to the Cacao slave trade and how the high demand for chocolate in the United States and beyond is a direct cause of these children’s misfortune.

Children working on a Cacao farm

It goes without saying that slavery is one of the most inhumane practices to ever be documented by the human race. To force another individual to produce a resource in high commodity through grueling work processes and unsafe work environments for minimal pay is despicable, and yet this practice is ever so prevalent in society today. In regard to Cacao farming, children in West Africa are taken from their homes at a young age and are sold to cacao farms where they are forced to produce cacao beans from the pods they are sent to collect. These children range anywhere from five to sixteen years of age, and a large majority of them continue this work well after they have matured. They are paid less than five dollars for a days work and are expected to produce a substantial amount of product in a short time frame. Who is to blame for this injustice done upon these children who are simply trying to survive and provide for their families in areas where resources are limited? To avoid asking another rhetorical question let’s get straight to the point and acknowledge the fact that we are the source of the problem. Chocolate or rather Cacao, has become as crucial a resource in America similar to wheat, agriculture, and livestock.  As previously mentioned above, our society has integrated cacao into our everyday lives in such a way that it would be virtually impossible to reverse the ever growing issue that our high demand for cacao has on the children forced into the slave trade in other countries.

Cacao beans

Large corporations that sell chocolate such as Hershey and Nestle to name a few are prime contributors to the continuation of the slave trade as they have yet to stop dealing with the slave traders that take advantage of the children they have producing cacao for them. Due in part to the fact that they are a business making a large profit off of selling chocolate, why would these corporations modify their business strategies if the return on the dealings are more than what they are putting out? Anyone with a brain could see the logistics behind it, but there is a lack of morality in it all that we must acknowledge if we want to prevent future generations from experiencing something similar. The other cause of the never ending cycle that is the slave trade in the Cacao business is the consumer. These corporations pander to the people to ensure a sizeable return from satisfied consumers of their product. We play a sizeable role in the continuation of the diabolical process known as slavery and we must stop turning a blind eye to its prevalence and seek out alternatives that will not come at the expense of children trying to carve out a life for themselves.

 According to a company called Slave Free Chocolate, these larger corporations that produce chocolate, which have become a primary source of happiness in our country and around the world, are doing very little to ensure the wrong doings placed upon these innocent children are addressed and rectified. Hershey and Nestle are two companies that have acknowledged the harsh reality that is child labor and how they will attempt to limit their contributions to these farms that make a profit off of the backs of younglings due to slave labor. However, in the years following these announcements they have done nothing but prove that they are incapable of changing their business practices to a healthier alternative. Both corporations have been taken to court on a number of occasions in an attempt to uncover the truth behind their business dealings, as well as hold them accountable for negligence in regard to who they choose to do business with. Their contributions to the slave labor running rampant in third world countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoireare the reason these children are still fighting for their lives.

The salvaging alone for Cacao beans is not a simple process that your average adult could simply begin without the proper tools and some form of guidance. Yet children are being sent into the forest with sharp machetes and large sacks. They climb dangerously tall trees in an attempt to harvest the cacao pods and bring them back to their slavers so that they can begin farming for the cacao beans. They are rushed by their slavers to cut open these Cacao pods to collect the beans found inside, and the only way they can do this effectively is by using the machetes provided to them. Many children are injured during this process as the bean extraction from the plant requires them to hack open the pod with a machete. There is always a risk that skin and appendages could be taken and still these children partake in this dangerous task because they have no other choice. The market calls for a high demand of Cacao and forcing an abundance of children to produce a plethora of cacao is easier to do rather than hiring adults and paying them a set wage.

The question then becomes are we to blame for being complicit, considering the children are in another country and are not our primary concern because they are not citizens of the United States? So long as they continue to contribute to a service that is provided to us, who cares if we turn our heads in the other direction right? Personally, I feel we have failed these individuals simply because as a country we are considered a super power and we control the eb and flow of the overall market. So, while we have the power to course correct these injustices our demand for the same product presents us with a paradox that is almost impossible to rectify. This alone demonstrates how subconsciously we are complicit because we possess the ability to correct these injustices and yet we are the reason they exist. Not all countries have the liberties we possess here in the United States, and eventually we have to acknowledge the fact that the ease of access to resources in the U.S. has created the lives these children currently lead. Subconsciously, we have been groomed in a way that allows us to be comfortable with getting what we want despite the steps taken to get us there. To take it a step further, let us acknowledge how much food is experimented with here and how America’s irregular consumption of the same foods in different forms has had an inverse effect on the slave trade and by extension the children.

Despite popular belief cacao beans are not solely used to make chocolate. While there are a variety of chocolates that are crafted from the plant, it is also the reason we have certain drinks and alcoholic beverages such as Coffee and Brandy. Not to mention cacao powder, liquor, butter, jam, marmalade etc. are all resources produced from this one plant. Coffee which is a huge resource utilized by the American people is right up there with chocolate as a hot commodity item. Corporations like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks have perfected their sales techniques to make coffee an adults signature “sweet treat.” Seasonal drinks like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Peppermint Mochas drive the masses wild and selling them during the holidays means more work for the children.There are endless examples of how food has its properties modified to be made into something else useful, but for the sake of this post it illustrates why the cacao slave trade continues to make a sizeable profit. We have become codependent on cacao and the many forms it takes and in the end the ones paying the price are the children working to keep up with our demand for more of this popular resource. What is even more tragic is the fact that we do not have to support companies that make their profit off of the backs of innocent children when there are companies out there that have demonstrated a suitable alternative exists.

There are small companies and corporations that are willing to pay foreigners a livable wage in order to produce the same chocolate products that we love, without putting children in harm’s way. Corporations like Tony’s Chocolonely make it their mission to deliver the consumer a product that is manufactured free from slave labor and in doing so take the fight directly towards corporations like Hershey and Nestle who refuse to change their business practices. They are so proud of these accomplishments that they label their products “free of slave labor” to encourage the consumer to purchase their product over their competitors. One of the primary reasons this is done is the hope that this will encourage larger corporations like Nestle and Hershey to stop dealing under the table with those who continue to practice the use of slave trade with children on their farms. Once they begin to lose business perhaps this cruel individuals may change the way they hire and pay their workers to something a bit more legal.

Keeping all of this in mind, what role can we play in fighting the war against slave labor to ensure that the number of children inducted into this terrifyingly inhumane practice are safe from trafficking moving forward? For starters we must stop funding these mega corporations that are only in the business to make a profit, and refuse to purchase from them again until they present substantial evidence that they are no longer doing business with slavers. As difficult as that may seem, considering these chocolate companies are already so ingrained into our everyday lives, and we as a society are subconsciously unaware of our complicities’ that have led to the slave trades continuous growth, we owe it to the children whose livelihoods are being sacrificed for a profit to bring forth positive change. We should focus our efforts and fund businesses like Tony’s Chocolonely as they have presented us with a more viable alternative for foreign workers who help produce cacao. Livable wages, safer work environments and zero slave labor. Furthermore, we owe it to future generations of children who are raised in the United States and beyond to seek out a safer alternative for years to come. If we did not try to undo these wrongs, how can we look our kids in the eyes and gift them with a candy bar that another child halfway around the world sacrificed so much to make? To that end, no matter the cost we have to do better and it starts by holding everyone accountable including ourselves for past discretions. When I become a parent, I would like to look into my child’s eyes one day and imagine I am looking at the eyes of a child halfway around the world whose future does not look as bleak as it originally used to.

Works Cited:

Appiah, L. (2017, June 07). Slave-free chocolate: Not-so-guilty pleasure. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/world/tonys-chocolonely-slavery-free-chocolate/index.html

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/

International Cocoa Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.icco.org/faq/52-by-products/115-products-that-can-be-made-from-cocoa.html

Lampley, R. L. (2019, February 09). Child slave labor rampant in chocolate supply chain. Retrieved from https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Child-slave-labor-rampant-in-chocolate-supply-13602395.php

Law Suits. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/doe-vs-nestle

Slave Free Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

From ‘Tree to Bar’: The Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Company

I was recently visiting family in Hilo, Hawaii where I found a bean to bar chocolate company mere minutes from where I was staying. As luck would have it, they also provided complete farm, production and store tours. I was able to take a wonderful tour, see every step of the process, interview Tom Menezes who is the owner, and take some wonderful photos which they have graciously allowed me to use for this paper. Below is a photo of Tom speaking with me about the cacao growing process. The trees in the photo are small cacao trees that have just started sprouting buds.

tom and me

Tom was very passionate about the cacao growing process. You could see just by speaking with him that he wanted his business to be a success, not just for his benefit, but for the benefit of the local agriculture community, and the locals in general. His workers just as equally passionate about growing and producing cacao as he is. During our tour of the farm and production center, I learned a lot about the process they use to make the chocolate I was able to taste in their store. They consider themselves a ‘tree to bar’ chocolate company, as they state on their company website. During the tours they had complete transparency about the process and answered all questions that arose from myself and others in my group. They were extremely educated about cacao and the process of creating chocolate.

Cacao Production Process:

We first started on the cacao farm where we saw cacao trees and learned how the pods were harvested from the tree.

cacao pod

It is one thing to know that a cacao pod grows off the trunks and branches, but it was another to actually see it, as pictured above.

Each cacao pod is harvested, then broken open to extract the cacao beans by farm workers. The beans are then fermented in large coolers, as shown below.

cooler

This part was very interesting, as they do not clean the coolers out in between harvests. They compared the coolers to cast iron skillets, you want the beans to ferment in the cooler and season it essentially.

Then the beans are cleaned and dried on their drying racks. Next, they are roasted, as pictured below, then separated from the nibs, ground down, and processed. The entire process from growing and harvesting, to grinding and processing, was displayed in the tour.

roast

The chocolate bars and drinks sold in their store, in Hilo, is just minutes away from the farm where they harvest the cacao. The store front also includes the production area for the cacao. They sell their chocolate on multiple islands in Hawaii and in various other stores as well.

History of Hawaiian Crown Chocolate:

The Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Company has a diverse work environment, and interesting history. Hawaiian Crown Chocolate has nearly 1,000 cacao trees on a 110-acre farm in Hilo. Their farm consists of cacao trees spaced in between banana trees in order to give shade to the cacao trees and aid in their growth and production. They have been planting cacao there for over 15 years, and the entire process is completed directly in Hilo (Hawaiian Crown, 2017). Nothing is outsourced. The owner of Hawaiian Crown Chocolate, Tom Menezes, has been farming cacao for over 40 years. Hawaiian Crown started off as purely a pineapple growing company, but eventually expanded into cacao as well. “Hawaii, as it turns out, is the only state where cacao can be grown commercially. Hawaiian Crown was one of the first certified organic cacao farms in the United States” (Walters, 2016). Tom has a lot of experience breeding and producing not only cacao, but also pineapple and taro. He has degrees in Tropical Agriculture and Plant Pathology from the University of Hawaii that have aided in his knowledge and success in the field of Hawaiian farming.

As it states on the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Website, “Hawaiian Crown uses traditional plant selection and breeding methods to develop plants” (About Us, n.d.). They use sustainable farming techniques and few chemicals. One of the company’s main goals is to grow the local agriculture business in absence of sugar plantations that used to be in Hawaii. Sugar plantations used to be one of the largest agricultural businesses in Hawaii, and when they started to pull out of the region, generational farmers took an economic hit (Mintz, 1986). Cacao was first introduced on the islands in the 1830’s, but the 1980’s are when a Hershey conglomerate decided to plant a large amount of cacao trees in Hawaii. In fact, Tom Menezes worked with Hershey on those cacao trees at the beginning of his career, before he went off on his own to open his own company that would further benefit the local economy and agriculture (Billock, 2018).

Hawaii is the “coldest place in the world where cacao can be grown” (Billock, 2018), and not native to the region. It is also the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. Cacao typically grows in South America which is warmer and more humid than Hawaii. However, the cooler temperatures in Hawaii are actually a good thing in some cases for growing cacao. Hawaii tends to have less pests than other areas with a warmer climate. The downside, however, is it takes longer to ferment in the colder climate. The University of Hawaii actually did some studies starting in 2006 on which cacao breeds produced the best yields and taste. It was funded by the department of Agriculture in Hawaii, and different areas of the islands were chosen based on different climates. It is currently being studied to decide where is best to plant cacao, how the harvest tastes, and what breed thrives the best (Miner, 2015, p. 404).

An Ethical Company:

Tom Menezes courteously answered my questions about his workers on the farm. He let me know that they contract out the workers from another farmer who “has a LLC and uses independent farmers where they are working for him and getting way better than minimum wages.  Also, he is helping people who got out of jail and otherwise who have a hard time finding a job.  So, all local workers who are unskilled but will be trained” (personal communication, April 30, 2019). Tom said that switching to local contract farmers improved pay and moral. He also works with other farmers in Hawaii to help them switch to local and contract workers to help improve the local agricultural community.

One of the things about the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate company that makes it so ethical in the chocolate industry is its transparency. This company is completely transparent about its supply chain, sourcing, and hired farm help. One of the biggest flaws in the chocolate industry right now is its lack of transparency. We especially see this with larger companies like Hershey and Cadbury. It is very hard to know exactly where a bar of the chocolate you buy in a store in America comes from, who helped farm the cacao beans that made the bar, and who processed those beans. I believe more companies should make their supply chains more transparent. This will increase not only awareness, but also force the companies to show how they are getting their chocolate and how the farmers are being treated and paid. This may increase the price of chocolate; nevertheless, wouldn’t it be worth a few extra dollars. Hawaiian Crown chocolate bars were a bit pricier than the ones in the supermarket. Each bar costs about $8, but you also know exactly where the cacao was picked, who picked it, and the entire process of production. “An increasingly aware chocolate-loving public would be willing to pay extra for a more ‘ethically correct’ product” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 263). People are also searching for better quality chocolate, that larger companies are not offering, and will pay more for that quality.

“Every actor in this industry must convey that every step of the process, from planting a tree to selling a bar of chocolate, is inherently valuable” (Leissle, 2018, p.188). Tom Menezes and the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate company strive for this. They emphasize transparency in the entire process, and fair treatment and wages for their workers. The tours they give show the importance of each part of the ‘tree to bar’ process. This is exactly what many people are searching for in their chocolate, that it be both ethical and tasty. A wonderful combination.

Note: For more information about tours and items sold please view the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Facebook

 

Works Cited:

About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hawaiiancrown.com/about-us/

Billock, J. (2018, February 14). How Hawaii Became the North Pole of Cacao. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/hawaii-north-pole-cacao-chocolate-tours-180967951/

Coe, S., & Coe M. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.

Hawaiian Crown Plantation & Chocolate Factory. (2017, March 31). Hawaiian Crown Plantation & Chocolate Factory Testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2018/testimony/HB1327_HD1_TESTIMONY_WAM_03-31-17_Late.PDF

Kifer, C. (2016, January 11). From Tree To Bar on the Big Island: Visiting a Chocolate Farm in Hawaii. Retrieved from http://everintransit.com/big-island-chocolate-farm-hawaii/amp/

Leissle, K. (2018). Cocoa. Newark: Polity Press.

Miner, M. (2015). Genetics informs Hawaiian chocolate industry. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13(8), 404-404.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power : The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.

Walters, M. (2016, April 16). Sweet Coronation for Hawaiian Crown Plantation. Retrieved from http://bigislandnow.com/2016/04/16/sweet-coronation-for-hawaiian-crown-plantation/

Chocolate is too Cheap

Being a cocoa farmer in West Africa is a difficult and very unpredictable job. Farmers have to deal with a lot of unpredictability market prices, weather, and the political situation. Most other farmers have to deal with similar factors, but the history of the cocoa industry makes it a special case and can explain why the industry has not managed to solve problems that have plagued its since its inception. I think that in order to improve the condition of small farmers in West Africa they should be more involved in the added value part of making chocolate and we should try to fix the obvious fact the chocolate is too cheap.

The Western world was first introduced to chocolate during the Spanish exploration and conquest of the New World. The traditional recipe for cocoa drink used in the Aztec empire was not very popular back in Europe, so the Europeans quickly went about using the cocoa beans to make products that were better received by the European palette (Coe 112). Since chocolate was discovered by the Spanish most of the early chocolate came from Spanish colonies, which utilized a lot of slave labor. Specifically the encomienda system allowed the Spanish the comply with the religious order not to enslave the native Americans, while treating them like slaves and exploiting their labor. This initial reliance on slave labor to keep costs down set the tone for the cacao growing industry for the next couple of hundred years.

In the early 19th century the slave trade was winding down and it was becoming much more expensive to grow cacao in the Americas. To solve this problem countries looked to place with similar climates and less strict labor rules. They settled West Africa as a place that had the right climate and a population that was easy to exploit and increase profit margins. Even though labor laws have gotten tougher West Africa still produces 70% of the world’s cacao (Coe 197). To see how reluctant the chocolate industry was to move away from slavery we only have to look at the example of Cadburys chocolate in the early 20th century. Cadburys is an English chocolate company that was buy cacao from the islands of Sao Tome and Principe at the time, which were Portuguese colonies. There was allegations of slave labor, so the company hired a detective to try to figure out what was going on. The detective found that there was not traditional slave trading going on, but the working conditions on the plantations were very bad and the death rate was much higher than it should have been. This was however a very tricky situation, because that industry was supported by the portuguese government and accusing them of using slave labor would have hurt diplomatic relations between the UK and Portugal (Higgs 146).

After one trip to Sao Tome Cadbury decided to visit Ghana because of the chocolate production there. The chocolate production in Ghana was on a much smaller scale than in the Portuguese colonies and at the times was not enough to satisfy the demand of the company, but it seemed promising. In 1909, Cadbury bought some land in the area and set up a factory (Higgs 148). This is where we can really start looking at the modern day cocoa growing process in the area, because the Gahan had a lot of small family owned farms and Cadbury moving his factory their changed them from a low production region to the one of the largest suppliers of cacao in the world.

The situation there nowadays is not very good though, many farmers live in poverty and are unable to support their farms and families from the money that they make from cacao. The industry in Ghana is also very highly regulated so much so that the government even sets the price of cacao in the country (Munshi). This creates a problem because if the government sponsors farmers and guarantees that their product will be sold at a specific price it creates no incentive to decrease supply. These heavy handed government policies could be creating a global oversupply driving down prices and costing even more money for the government because they would have to pay the subsidies to the farmers to make up the difference.

To try to stabilize the global price Ghana and the Ivory Coast are trying to form a cartel that would decide production numbers and use that to try to prevent an oversupply (Bloomberg). Although both of these countries regulate cacao differently they both set a minimum price that the farmers will receive, which again could create more of an oversupply. These governments are also not always willing to work together. Recently the Ivorian government was unable to convince the Ghana government to decrease their cacao prices to decrease the amount of smuggling between the two countries. Internally these countries are not the most stable either. Although the Ivorian government has tried to control supply many farmers are illegally expanding into protected forests to grow more cacao (Bloomberg). Simply using the government to force people to stop doing something is rarely effective. A much more effective plan to encourage the people to do certain things is to provide incentives for doing them.

Many of the problems facing the cacao industry are also faced by other agricultural industries. The price of commodities is very unpredictable and you generally do not have very high margins because you are only providing the raw materials for many other products. Because of this volatility many government subsidise farms, and farm equipment. There are a wide range of strategies that governments can use to subsidise farms from paying farmers not to use their land to destroying supply in order to keep prices high (Econlib). These policies make sense for some crops that are grown on large plantations where individual farms can decrease production and not take a massive hit to their livelihood. Chocolate production in Ghana is a different scenario though because the farms are generally small, family owned, and only produce one crop. Programs such as this will completely devastate these small farms.

Even at the current prices these small farms can barely produce enough cacao to keep themselves fed and clothed. A UK study found that on average woman are making less that three dollars a day farming cacao. Even though the cost of living in Ghana is lower it is not that low and less than three dollars a day is lower middle class for Ghana (Leissle 91). The lack of information that the farmers used to have was also a problem. Someone could come to their village and tell them a much lower price for cacao than the market price and buy the cacao for below market value. This has improved over recent years as the internet has become more accessible farmers can be more informed if they are getting a fair price for their product or not. The opening up of the market in Ghana has also created competition amongst buyers in some places, which is always good for farmers because this drives up prices and gives them a choice of who to sell to. Currently Ghana also sets a price floor so if short term volatility drives the price of cacao below a certain set price then then government will make up the difference and keep the farmers in business (Leissle 76).

Many people believe though that direct government intervention is not the correct way to solve this problem. Many NGOs are trying to tackle the problem of low incomes for cacao farmers. One specific NGO that I want to look at it the Day Chocolate Company. This NGO gives farmers shares in the company so that they are invested in the success of the company. These shares also give the farmers two seats on the board so they can have a say in which direction the company goes in the future (Doherty 4). The farmers are part of a union called the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union. This union was created in 1993 as a cooperative buying company with the goal of getting higher prices for cacao and  to promote social projects. In 1997 the union voted to set up the Day Chocolate company whose goal was to create a chocolate bar to be sold in western markets (Doherty 5). This would greatly increase their profits because most of the value of the chocolate comes from the processing not the raw ingredients.

The question is then did they succeed. Well looking at the numbers they went from less than a quarter of a million pounds in sales in 1999 to over five million pounds in sales in 2004. This seems like a very successful company and as they earned more from sales then began to buy more beans and fair trade prices. This has provided more that 2 million dollars of extra fair trade premiums, part of which has been paid to as extra income to farmers (Doherty 8). This is great news for farmers because they can not have to worry as much about essentials and they could have time to engage in activities other than farming.

All of these programs that help cacao farmers are great, but if the market price of cacao is not enough to cover the costs of farming it then the whole system is unsustainable. The best way to solve this would be to raise the market price of cacao and the best way to do that is to restrict the supply. That can be done through government regulation, but that might not work so well on small family farms that cannot really decrease production. I think that the best way to sustainably decrease cacao production is to have companies unrelated to chocolate open up factories or create some kind of jobs in the area. This would encourage people to move away from growing cacao because these jobs could pay more and be a more stable source of income compared to farming. This would then decrease the amount of people farming and decrease the global supply. This would raise prices and the people who would still be growing the cacao would be getting a high income for the same amount of beans.

Another plan that could create more stability for cacao farmers would be to move away from small family owned farms to larger farms that could adapt to and predict demand better than small farms and could negotiate better or at least stable prices with buyers. These farmer could then employ former cacao farmers with a salary, so the people with cacao growing expertise would be growing the cacao and the people with business expertise would be manage the business side of the enterprise.

This move away from small farms may already be happening without any outside interference. In West Africa the younger generation does not want to be cacao farmers and the older generation is not going to be able to keep farming for much longer (Barclay). While the chocolate industry sees this as a bad thing, obviously because their costs will increase, this could actually be a very good thing for the people of West Africa because many of them could try to move to more profitable and sustainable jobs and the people that remain will end up having higher incomes because of the decrease in supply.

The socioeconomic conditions of many chocolate farmers in West Africa are extremely poor and while many programs are trying to fix these conditions they are not addressing the main problem that market price of chocolate is not high enough to properly cover the costs of cultivating it. Most government programs that are trying to guarantee a minimum price are very expensive and create an oversupply, which drives the price down even further. Most programs run by NGOs are trying to do a similar thing which addresses the symptoms not the underlying problems of the cacao growing industry. The Day Chocolate company is taking a different approach, which might just work. By vertically integrating the company and making the growers be shareholders they can reap the benefits of being involved in the the value added steps of making chocolate. Farmers also benefit from the stability of the price of chocolate bars. One final thing that might help chocolate farmers is to encourage some of them to move into other industries to constrict the supply of chocolate and raise the market price to a level where it pays for the costs of growing it and provides a decent income. This last plan fixes the underlying problem of farmers in West Africa living below the poverty line, but it would also be the most unpopular because countries such as Ghana would decrease their exports and the global price of chocolate would go up significantly.

Works Cited

Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-04/why-african-cocoa-growers-are-having-an-opec-moment-quicktake.

“Agricultural Subsidy Programs.” Econlib, http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/AgriculturalSubsidyPrograms.html.

Barclay, Eliza. “Why The World Might Be Running Out Of Cocoa Farmers.” NPR, NPR, 3 July 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/07/03/419243305/why-the-world-might-be-running-out-of-cocoa-farmers.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Doherty, Bob, and Sophi Tranchell. “New Thinking in International Trade? A Case Study of The Day Chocolate Company.” Sustainable Development, vol. 13, no. 3, 2005, pp. 166–176., doi:10.1002/sd.273.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Munshi, Neil. “Cocoa Prices Leave Bitter Taste for Ghana’s Farmers.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 8 Oct. 2018, http://www.ft.com/content/a06abe2a-c1ab-11e8-84cd-9e601db069b8.

A Sweet Taste that Inspired a Culture and the Bitter Suffering that Created It

From the Amazon basin to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to us. Chocolate as we know it today, however, is very different from what it used to be in the 16th century. Though we celebrate its sweet taste and how it positively affects our brains, not everything about chocolate is sweet, including its history:

https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-history-of-chocolate-deanna-pucciarelli

It all started in Latin America

When Europeans arrived in the New World, they found a hundred or more cultigens – the most important beverage source being the cacao tree. The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, originated in South America, where the Olmec were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate was consumed during rituals and used as medicine. Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods.

Chocolate arrives in Spain

In 1528, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés introduced Cacao to Spain (Coe & Coe, 2013). After the addition of sugar, the drink quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Chocolate was even loved by Catholic monks who drank it to aid religious practices.

Due to its rising popularity, Spain set up cacao plantations in its West Indies colonies to meet demand. As cacao drinking began to spread across Europe in the late 17th century, French, English, and Dutch plantations were also established in the West Indies and South America. As with other colonial plantations in the New World, the production in these plantations used slaves from West Africa (Mintz, 1986).

When the cocoa press was invented in 1828 by J. van Houten, it enabled the extraction of cacao powder from cacao butter, thus the first chocolate bar was created in the mid-19th century (Coe & Coe, 2013). Those developments resulted in the affordability of chocolate for the mass market, which further increased the demand for cacao.

In Africa, it was only in the late 19th century that production began on any significant scale, with the first large scale production from Portuguese plantations on the island of São Tomé & Príncipe. Despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875, these plantations became notorious for using workers who were slaves in all but name.

Cacao and Colonialism

Back in the 15th century, when the Portuguese discovered the Azores, Madeiras, Cape Verde Islands, and São Tomé & Príncipe, they were all uninhabited. After discovery, the Portuguese soon began cultivating the islands for sugar; however, the sugar plantations required a large labor force. With the Portuguese population being too small to provide a large number of colonists, it was ultimately the slaves that filled that demand – and so began the African habitation of the islands.

Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to the two islands, mostly from Angola. It was the early 1900s, and Portuguese colonizers in the small country were reveling in the fact that they had turned the island into the world’s largest producer of cacao.

Angolan forced laborers working on cacao plantations on São Tomé & Príncipe (Rhodes House archive).

During the coffee boom of the 1850s the Portuguese began cultivating both crops intensely off the back of slave labor. Portuguese colonies abolished slavery in 1858, yet the laborers continued to be exploited. Many were “contracted” from the Portuguese colony of Angola where recruiters followed the old slave routes deep into the interior and the recruiting process was rumored to be forced (Nevinson, 1906). Workers were paid for their work on the islands, but wages were low and the death rates (as much as 20%) were high. Alcoholism was widespread as a result of soulless work, depression, and cheap imported Portuguese wine.

Laborers signed 5-year contracts, which were automatically renewed, and no workers ever returned to their homeland. In the early 1900s, the English challenged Portuguese policy implying that workers were not allowed to leave freely, making them slaves on the islands. Its suspicious labor practices had already made São Tomé & Príncipe one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao.

Cadbury Brothers began importing cacao beans from São Tomé and in 1901, William Cadbury heard that the island’s cacao was produced by slave labor, after coming across an advertisement for the sale of a São Tomé plantation. Included in the sale were the plantation laborers, indicating that the workers themselves were considered property. Cadburry joined with Frys, Rowntrees and the Stollwerck chocolate firm of Cologne, and together sent Dr. Joseph Burtt to investigate conditions on the islands and in Angola (Kiesow, 2017). Burtt reported that Angolan people were taken to the islands “against their will, and often under conditions of great cruelty”, and that it was almost unknown for them to return to their homeland (Higgs, 2013).

The dark and cruel reality of chocolate was, however, soon revealed to the rest of the world. In Harper’s Magazine, Nevinson (1906) described the São Tomé of 1904 as, “a hot-house climate of burning heat and torrents of rain.’ The type of conditions that, ‘kills men and makes the cocoa tree flourish.” Nevinson (2015) later said the death rates were highest among child slaves, with most dying within a few years because, “it was very difficult to convince them to live through the misery and homesickness” (Nevinson, 2015).

As Western consumers reacted with shock and disgust to those news, much of the production moved from São Tomé to the plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which did not make use of slave labor. As Ghana and the Ivory Coast had increased their cacao production to meet demand, many of the plantations were unable to sustain themselves and the once glorious plantations fell into disrepair across the islands.

Independence from Portugal finally came about in 1975, making São Tomé & Príncipe one of the last few African countries to throw off the shackles of colonial rule.

Today

São Tomé & Príncipe remains one of the world’s poorest countries. However, despite the islands’ reputation for quality cacao, one would not find chocolate for sale at the local Mercado Municipal. To associate cacao purely with pleasure would do an injustice to the island’s history. If one were to savor a rich piece of chocolate while reflecting on the trials of slavery and those who once worked on cacao fields, chocolate would surely take on a bitter taste.

The good thing is that the island nation’s cacao industry has moved on from its dark history. Organic cacao farming, today, is a sustainable type of farming, both for farmer’s incomes and for the environment. The growing demand for organic cacao (cacao beans that are not treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides) has presented a whole new opportunity to São Tomé & Príncipe.

One interesting fact to note is that none of the primary crops grown by slaves, such as cacao, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, were necessary to sustain human life. Can we therefore argue, that slavery is a very early byproduct of a consumer culture that revolves around the purchase of goods that bring us pleasure but not sustenance?

References

Coe, S. & Coe, M. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.

Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, slavery, and colonialism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kiesow, S. (2017). Cocoa culture on São Tomé and Príncipe: The rise and fall of cocoa on the islands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural History, 91(1), 55-77.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Nevinson, H. (1906, February). The slave-trade of to-day. Conclusion. The islands of doom. Harper’s Magazine, Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/1906/02/the-slave-trade-of-to-day-conclusion-the-islands-of-doom/

Nevinson, H. (2015). A modern slavery – Scholar’s choice edition. Wolcott, NY: Scholar’s Choice.

Cacao and its Varieties

Cacao products come in many varieties, some of which begin with the beans themselves. While not always immediately distinct, the seeds and the trees from which they are obtained both display considerable diversity. This diversity is of considerable importance both in study of the tree and to the industry surrounding its products. Generally, a few major variants of cacao are commercially recognized. This text aims to provide an overview of the major varieties of Theobroma cacao, of their significance to the groups involved in their utilization, and on how these groups are themselves important in defining these varieties. The different varieties of cacao are often presented as definite categories, even as specific cultivars to consumers. However, the definitions of these varieties tend to be rather inexact, and often do not correspond closely if at all to botanical knowledge. Indeed, much of the categorization of cacao instead has historical, geographical and recently, economical origins. Nevertheless, differences between trees and trends in these do exist even if their naming may be inaccurate. Further, genetic diversity; whether displayed by varieties or otherwise, of cacao trees is of particular importance to cacao producers, since the diversity in a given cacao population may greatly affect the productivity and health of that population.

The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao is an undergrowth tree which requires rather specific conditions for successful cultivation. The tree requires locations that provide it with moisture and an environment with what might be describes as rich, or messy environment, the better to accommodate the midges which pollinate the tree. Of particular note is that the cacao tree is susceptible to many afflictions, such as blights, fungi, pod rots and other pests and diseases. Thus, the cacao tree is a remarkably fickle plant, the cultivation of which presents many difficulties. As shall be further investigated below, different varieties of the plant may exhibit different degrees of resistance however; while genetic variety, more specifically, is of special importance. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 19 – 21)

Cacao cultivars and terroir in marketing. Image credit: Own work.

According to recent analysis, the genus Theobroma may be subdivided into 22 distinct species, most of which grow mainly in the Amazon basin. Theobroma cacao also seems to have originated in this area, but has, at least in part due to human activity migrated north into Mesoamerica. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 24 – 25). Theobroma cacao is commonly divided into three or four main varieties, each with various subdivisions. Many of these varieties are contentious however, subject both to varying definitions and levels of recognition. Many varieties are defined by historic usage and location rather than strictly botanically, and perhaps their most important utility is as a marketing tool. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

The ancient spatial separation between South American and Mesoamerican cacao trees itself defines the main, perhaps most definite cacao varieties: the criollo variety (Theobroma cacao ssp. cacao), defined by long, heavily ridged pods is native to Mesoamerica. Criollo, or “local” variety commonly counts as the most prized and was commonly grown by the Aztecs and Mayans. While this variety is often considered to be of superior quality, it is also particularly vulnerable to disease and pests. Remarkably, this cultivar is also perhaps the only one supported by actual genetic evidence (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.165)

Forastero cacao (Theobroma cacao ssp. sphaerocarpum), defined by its round pods is native to South America. The forastero, or “foreign” variety is, though less prized, the most widely produced cacao; making for most of world production. Though its taste may be considered inferior, this variety is considered sturdier and more resistant than Criollo. Though the distinction between these varieties is one of the most common and arguably most definite, it already demonstrates how cacao is commonly labelled for political, economic or geographical, rather than botanical purposes. As hinted at by their very names, the distinction between the two originated after the conquest of Mesoamerica, when the Criollo, or local populations, which had declined along with the native inhabitants were supplemented with forastero, that is, foreign stock brought in from south America. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

Three varieties of cacao. From the left: Forastero, Trinitario, Criollo. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Insofar as they may be considered useful botanical categories, the closeness of these particular varieties is demonstrated by their having retained the ability to produce fertile hybrids: they are also commonly considered ancestral to most other varieties. A third major variety is Trinitario, which is already somewhat poorly defined as any hybrid between criollo and forastero. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 26). These major varieties of cacao together make for most worldwide cacao production, with the forastero being most prominent, providing around 80 % of all cacao. In addition to these three, various other varieties of cacao may be identified, notably the nacional variety. Each of these major varieties also contains various more or less obscure sub-varieties, such as (West African) Amelonado, which are often defined mainly, even exclusively by growing locality.

Global distribution of the main cacao varieties. Blue: Criollos, Green: Forasteros, Red: Trinitarios. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite their limited utility for biological purposes, the actual variety in cacao is of considerable importance to the cacao industry. To the consumer, these varieties provide some insight into the origins and terroir of cacao.  Meanwhile, to the grower, these varieties are of material significance, since diversity, or lack thereof, may greatly affect the profitability of a cacao plantation. This fact is especially obvious in places where the cacao tree is not native but introduced. The cacao tree, as aforementioned, is rather susceptible to various diseases, and the lack of genetic variety commonly found in introduced populations may exacerbate such issues. This may be observed, for example, in Amelonado cacao in Ghana, introduced there from Brazil. These trees necessarily have rather less genetic variety than traditional cultivars due to the loss of genetic diversity that occurs when a new population is established from a limited selection of a parent population. The difference in genetic diversity may be readily established through comparison with older, traditional populations. This issue is particularly prominent in some parts of Ghana due to poor infrastructure and the repeated use of seeds from the same plantations. The result is unhealthy and hence unproductive trees with low yields: undesirable to any grower. (Motamayor, p. 83 – 84)

Thus, the designations of most cacao varieties are less useful as botanical categories than one might expect based on how these names tend to be used. However, while the relevance of these categories to the biologist may be limited, their wider utility as cultural and economical concepts is considerable. while the designations of cacao varieties are not generally reliable indicators of botanical properties, they are still important both as more general indicators of diversity and as a cultural and economic phenomenon.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018

Coe, Sophie & Michael, The True History of Chocolate, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013

Motamayor, Lanaud: Molecular Analysis of the Origin and Domestication of Theobroma cacao L. Managing Plant Genetic Diversity. IPGRI 2002, https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/14003/PDF (Retrieved 07-03-19)

Multimedia Sources:

Tamorlan, Tres variedades de cacao; Creative Commons 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tres_variedades_de_cacao.jpg

Sémhur, Main cacao species – World distribution map – blank, Creative Commons 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Main_cacao_species_-World_distribution_map-_blank.svg

Moving to Mars: Climate Change and Cacao’s Undying Lov

Two hours. That is the amount of time I spent scouring databases and newspaper articles attempting to find scientific (or non-scientific) evidence that would demonstrate the importance chocolate has in our world today. More specifically, I was looking for something titled Chocolate: The Most Significant Food in History. The best I could find was a TIME.com article titled “9 Weirdest Uses for Chocolate.” It was very insightful. However, when considering the amount of chocolate that is produced and consumed in the world each year, the picture of importance starts to become more clear. For businesses and consumers, chocolate and cacao is a great product, and in high demand. For producers and farmers, it is an important cash crop and essential to survival.

Figure 1.

Producing and Consuming

Source: http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf

The relevance and importance chocolate and cacao cultivation have on the world economy cannot be understated. According to the International Cacao Organization (ICCO,) the world’s top ten chocolate producing companies did $80 billion USD in sales in 2017. (https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html) Even beyond the money and global markets, there is a great deal of cultural significance that could never be quantified. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that Cacao directly affects the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/programs/). For chocolate lovers, the news that climate change could significantly impact our access to chocolate was devastating. Major players such as MARS Inc. have made significant investments for this eventuality, and are looking to be prepared for changes in the cacao marketplace. This will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the producers of cacao and encourages a deeper look at methods to adapt the farming and production practices.

Chocolate might go away?

Despite the fear-mongering on the internet, this is not totally accurate. It is important to point out that cacao will not be going extinct anytime soon. It will, however, face a potentially sharp and significant decline in production. This means that by 2050, you may have less access too chocolate than you do at this very moment. My advice is to stock up.

Cacao trees really depend on very specific criteria to be met in order for them to grow, thrive, and produce fruit (Lecture). Cacao can essentially only be grown when the right conditions are met. Those conditions apply to which areas in the world cacao can grow in, the temperature it prefers, and the surrounding plants that shield and shade it. The picky nature of Theobroma cannot be understated.

The challenge that the world’s cacao producers are facing is climate change. Those very specific conditions are projected to be harder to meet in the very near future. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) West African countries will experience an increase in evapotranspiration (Smith, 2016). Essentially, the amount of water plants will be able to retain will decrease due to higher temperatures. This will have an impact on what areas will later be suitable to grow cacao. Figure 2 highlights the estimated change in temperature in Africa’s top cacao producing regions according to research done by Peter Läderach and his team.

Figure 2.

Temp change

Source: Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa

With 70% of the world’s chocolate finding its origin in western African countries like Cote d’Ivoire, a decrease in production from West Africa would have a worldwide impact. (http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf) For several countries that fall within the West African cacao belt, Cacao is the number one agricultural export. Any decline could potentially result in major economic impacts for those countries (Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013; Schroth, Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Bunn, & Jassogne, 2016). It would also result in consequences for the natural habitats and cacao growing regions of these states. The research that has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire has indicated that by 2050, almost 90% of the current farmland would be unsuitable to grow cacao, with only a 10% increase in suitability. This is alarming as the vast majority of cacao production in Africa, and worldwide, stems from this region.

Figure 3

cacao production

Source: Lecture slides

Additionally, this new farmland comes at a cost. That is to say, in order to capitalize on other areas that will be suitable to grow cacao, countries facing this challenge will have to sacrifice environmental conservation (Läderach et al., 2013). This still would not make up for the amount of farmland lost to the temperature increases, while contributing to the factors that influence climate change.

While a decrease in African production would have global consequences, it is unlikely that climate change will eliminate chocolate and cacao production. As cacao grows around the globe, we can expect it will continue to be around. One of the concerns currently is that it is very likely that other regions around the world will have to pick up the slack. And that is a lot of slack! With the top cacao producing countries losing close to 90% of suitable cacao growing areas, it is unclear at this point where it is possible to make up for this loss. Without an answer in the next 20-30 years, chocolate will likely be much less of a household item than it was the last 100 years.

Let’s move to Mar’s…Inc.

According to the Candy Industry’s 2017 Global Top 100 list, Mar’s Inc. is the world’s top-grossing candy company. In 2017, their net sales topped $18 billion USD! (https://www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4) With earnings like that, it is not difficult to understand the level of investment and commitment the company would have to the preservation of chocolate production.

mars

Source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/794479

Mars Inc. has put their money where their mouth is…or rather, where the chocolate is. They have invested in a project run by the Innovative Genomics Institute, in an effort to ensure future production of cacao. So far they have pledged $1 billion USD to creating sustainability and reducing their footprint, and this includes the CRISPR project. The goal of the project is not to specifically save cacao production, but rather to combat diseases in humans and plants (IGI 2018). Lucky for us, Theobroma Cacao is a plant. Winning! Well, maybe. The CRISPR technology is aimed at altering the genes of plants in order to make them resistant to disease. So this might not really help West African farmers who will lose cacao growing areas. By investing in this technology, Mars Inc. hopes to expand the possible areas cacao can be grown in.

As it stands today, different diseases and insects make in very difficult to grow and produce cacao. It is estimated that about 40% of the crops in the Americas are lost to fungal infections like witches’ broom (Shapiro & Shapiro, 2015). By increasing the natural resistance of the fruit-bearing trees, the average yield would increase 3 fold. This means that places that have been traditionally very difficult to produce cacao in could now become production centers. This would effectively reduce the impacts on chocolate manufacturers if the climate predictions do create impediments to cacao production in West Africa.

In a recent story done on the use of CRISPR technology, scientists working with IGI explained the advancements they have made in changing the genes of many crops that are prone to disease. They explain that they have already used the technology to create a solution for the swollen shoot virus that plagues cacao trees. (Schlender, 2018)

Source: https://www.voanews.com/embed/player/0/4332190.html?type=video

The technology works so quickly that IGI can have plants develop the desired traits within one generation! This is very good news for chocolate lovers. Assuming everything works out. The plants that have and will undergo this process will need to be researched extensively before they can be consumed by the public. This will ensure that people eating these modified crops do not grow an extra set of toes afterward.

This past year, Mars Inc. also made a significant investment in addressing climate change, planning to cut its own carbon emissions by two-thirds. A big part of this investment will be assisting farmers in improving their yields while simultaneously reducing pressures underlying deforestation. The idea is that the more a farmer can produce from their crops, the less land they will need to do it (Madson, 2017). This investment totals $1 billion USD and has been proposed to be completed by 2050.

Other chocolate giants such as Cadbury and Mondelez have also become a part of developing solutions for creating sustainability in cacao farming. Mondelez International’s non-profit arm, Cocoa Life, is focused on improving the lives of farmers in cacao-growing regions around the world. (https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach) With increased commitment from large organizations with vast resources, it is possible to combat the potential effects of climate change.

What about the little guy/gal?

While it appears that Mars Inc. has likely stumbled upon a viable solution to their future issue of supply, what about the small-holders. The potential to move cacao production elsewhere is not great news for all parties involved. It is possible that genetic modification could potentially change under what conditions cacao trees thrive. However, it is unclear if this route could help the trees overcome evapotranspiration in the projected West African environments. It is very probable that this cash crop could find a new capital in other region or regions in other parts of the world. For the millions of farmers who are vulnerable to this threat, this is a challenge they will be forced to adapt to.

There are organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance who are working toward preparing farmers, equipping them with new strategies to protect their crops. The strategy being used is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and in principal focuses on the specific needs of the specific farm (de Groot, 2017). Cacao farmers using this tactic would conduct a needs assessment of their farm, and create a plan that directly corresponds to the challenges that are unique to them. Some of the strategies include planting shade trees, as well as developing water retaining systems to prepare for droughts. While these will improve overall yield from these farms, it is unclear at this point how these tactics will far against climate change.

The tactic of planting shade trees is, however, a recommended strategy for those who fall in the Western African cacao belt. Currently, the farming trend has been to reduce the shade on cacao farms, however, this may no longer be an option. By increasing the shade of the cacao trees, the temperatures of its leaves could drop up to 4 °C (Läderach et al., 2013). Not only could this help protect cacao cultivation in Western Africa, it also helps to increase crop diversification. If done correctly, this would make cacao farmers less vulnerable to changing temperatures and less frequent rainfall. A downside to this recommendation is the limitation on the amount of water available during the dry season. The increase in plant life means less water to satisfy the needs of the cacao trees, and potentially losing the entire crop.

Conclusion

Chocolate is important. It directly impacts the lives of people around the world, in ways that transcend taste. For some, it is a highly desired treat, and for others, it is a means of opportunity. The effects of climate change have given all sides of the cacao industry a wake-up call to the importance of sustainable farming and improving our carbon footprint. Large organizations have begun to change the way they operate in the world, by reducing their emissions and helping to improve farming practices. Climate change could result in significant impacts on the cacao industry the world over. Reducing the amount of product available for purchase, and decreasing the available wages that can be earned in regions that are the most affected. Scientists, chocolate companies, and cacao farmers are starting to come together in an attempt to better the practices in this very important industry. Each has a role to play to play in this improvement, as well as the preparation for effects climate change will play in cacao and other vital crops.

 

Sources:

de Groot, H. (2017). Preparing Cocoa Farmers for Climate Change. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/article/preparing-cocoa-farmers-for-climate-change

Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2013). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119(3–4), 841–854. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8

Madson. (2017, October 27). Climate change could hurt chocolate production » Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2017/10/climate-change-could-hurt-chocolate-production/

Schlender, S. (2018). New Gene Editing Tool May Yield Bigger Harvests. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.voanews.com/a/crispr-for-bread-chocolate/4330647.html

Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation. Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024

Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana, & Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana. (2015). The Race to Save Chocolate. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanfood0615-28

Smith, M. (2016). Climate & Chocolate | NOAA Climate.gov. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

 

Cacao and Climate Change: Implications and Recommendations

At some point in our lives, we all hear Forrest Gump’s famous quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Climate change is no different. Mother Nature is currently harnessed by an increasingly volatile system that continues to alter our earth each and every day, and by failing to change our destructive ways, humans are allowing this force to perpetuate. According to NASA, average global temperature has increased by 1.7 percent since the late nineteenth century, and 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 (MacLennan). Additionally, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at the highest they have been in 650,000 years (MacLennan). Because all agricultural systems are sensitive to these changes, cacao and therefore chocolate are equally subject to adversity. Between the monstrous chocolate industry and diligent cacao farmers, countless constituents are at stake in this sensitive predicament. Given the escalating atmospheric constraints on cacao-growing regions due to the intensification of climate change, cacao farmers must carefully adapt while simultaneously seeking out responsible, innovative ways to keep the beloved cacao crop from becoming obsolete in the coming decades. 

Geographically, cacao can only grow within 20 degrees latitude both north and south of the equator, as illustrated by Figure 1 (Scott). As we learned from a course book, cacao trees flourish under strict conditions including high humidity, abundant rain, uniform temperatures, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from the wind (Presilla 95). In short, cacao trees thrive in tropical rainforests. The vast majority of the world’s cacao is produced by smallholders, meaning those owning less than five acres of land (de Groot). Currently, there exist about two million smallholder farmers in West Africa alone, all of whom depend on cacao for their livelihoods (Schroth et al 231). Their vulnerability to climate change derives from the fact that they are predominately located in the tropics, but I strongly believe we should remain equally concerned by the various demographic, socioeconomic, and policy trends we discussed in class that hinder their capacity to adapt to change. The world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia, and research highlighted in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, those countries will experience a 3.8°F increase in temperature by 2050, which I suspect would connote a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Scott). 

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Figure 1. A geographical representation of the cacao belt, which spans across the equator.

Cacao will face a distinct challenge from the changing climate compared to that of many other crops. Coffee, for example, suffers direct harm from rising temperatures, but this paradigm alone won’t necessarily hinder cacao production (Jaramillo et al). Cacao cultivation areas in Malaysia, for instance, already endure a warmer climate than West Africa without any obvious negative effects (Scott). Upon briefly conversing with one of our guest lecturers after a guided tasting this semester, I learned that one of the greatest dangers to cacao arising from climate change is the increase in evapotranspiration, particularly given that higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall (Scott). Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere through both soil evaporation and plant transpiration (Handley). In other words, as higher temperatures coax more water from soil and plants, rainfall likely will not increase enough to offset the moisture loss. In order to avoid generalizing, one should note that this situation will not necessarily represent that of all cacao-growing regions; a study on a Nigerian research farm, for example, found that a combination of optimal temperature (84°F) and minimal rainfall (900 to 1000mm)—both less than the current yearly averages—would result in the best yields (Ojo et al 353). This mélange in the effects and remedies of climate change is a fantastic example of why farmers must adopt such a dynamic attitude moving forward.

As we approach 2050, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The optimal altitude for cacao cultivation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, is expected to rise from 350-800 feet to 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level (Scott). Generally, areas anticipated to show improved cultivation conditions look to be rugged, hilly terrain. But herein lies the problem: Ghana’s Atewa Range, for example, is a forest preserve where cultivation isn’t permitted, so inhabitants are left with the difficult choice of illegally gutting the forest to grow cacao in the name of global demand or preserving the natural habitat in which they live and losing their only source of income. Given that our class dedicated a substantial amount of time to discussing the already turbulent livelihoods of cacao farmers, I am troubled to see that they may soon face such an unfair quandary. One study examined nearly 300 locations in the world’s primary cacao-growing regions and found that only 10.5% showed increasing suitability for cacao production by 2050, while the remaining 89.5% showed the opposite (Scott). Figure 2 shows current suitability and projections for future conditions under a changing climate (Schroth et al 233):

1-s2.0-S0048969716304508-gr5

Figure 2. Maximum temperature of the warmest month under current and projected 2050 climate conditions in the West African cacao belt. The dotted area shows the extent of current cacao production as used for model calibration. The red lines show areas of cacao production.

The area depicted above is known as the West African cacao belt. Once entirely covered by the Nigerian lowland forests in the east and the Guinean lowland forests in the west, much of the area has now been converted to agriculture (Schroth et al 235). The world’s cacao industry depends largely on this belt for raw material due to the sheer volume of cacao produced as well as the abundance of high-quality bulk cacao that cannot be readily replaced by other cacao origins. As we learned in lecture, blended cacao typically goes to large industrial producers (unlike exclusive-derivation cacao, which exemplifies the traits of terroir through individual nuances), so this region is undeniably crucial to the future success of the large chocolate industry. Climate change aside, production in this region faces a wide variety of challenges, all of which we addressed in lecture: most trees are over-aged and therefore unproductive in the already small farms; low prices—until the recent price inflation—and variability make it difficult for farmers to afford costly inputs such as fertilizers; absence or insufficiency of technical assistance in most countries make maintenance difficult (Schroth et al 236). Perhaps while addressing climate change, whether internally or through foreign aid, actors should undertake these challenges alongside those directly associated with climate change itself.

Due in part to the aforementioned adversities, cacao farming has been a major driver of deforestation in West Africa, most notably in Côte d’Ivoire. Historically, cacao has been a “pioneer crop” grown after forest clearing, meaning that rather than replanting aging plantations, farmers have typically opted to migrate to the forest frontiers to establish new cacao farms. During the second half of the twentieth century, the cacao frontier moved from the drier east to the wetter southwest of the country, a migration fueled by massive immigration of prospective cacao farmers from the savannah (Ruf et al 101). From my perspective, it appears that the climate gradient was a major driver of these east-west migrations and that, by replacing forest with farmland over vast areas, cacao farmers contributed to the further drying of the climate in what appears to be a positive feedback loop. This is precisely the type of damage we as a civilization must avoid in the coming decades. In order to help facilitate a greater awareness of sustainability, governments and supply chain actors should discourage forest frontier dynamics by helping farmers adapt to environmental change through more intensive and diversified farming practices.

The question of whether water availability or maximum temperatures during the dry season will be more limiting to the survival, growth, and yield of cacao trees in a future climate is of particular importance when considering the design of climate resilient production systems. One highly efficient—and, in my opinion, the only practical—method of protecting cacao trees from high temperatures is through overhead shade from appropriately selected, spaced, and managed companion trees such as banana and plantain as seen in Figure 3 (Colina). This practice can reduce cacao leaf temperatures by up to 40°F, sequester carbon that would otherwise be lost from the soil, make cacao trees less vulnerable to pests, and provide nutrient-rich leaf litter as well as protection from wind and soil erosion (Rajab et al). With that said, adequate ventilation is also important as a complementary measure, as it helps to reduce the prevalence of fungal disease in cacao (Schroth et al 240). The general takeaway here is that farmers need to be properly trained such that they can correctly execute these methods.

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Figure 3. Young cacao plants in a nursery under shade trees in Mindanao, Philippines.

When considering shadow crops such as those pictured above, we must recognize that an expectation of severe water limitation during the dry season may complicate things. Under such conditions, there could eventually not be enough water available for both cacao and shade trees during the dry season, thereby stressing the trees and leaving farmers in a tough position. Although I feel this is an unlikely extreme, we should prepare for all possibilities. Temperature struggles aside, another mitigation strategy could be to provide cacao growers with selectively bred seeds that have superior drought resistance. Farmers could, however, be skeptical of genetically modified seeds given the stereotypically low trust between farmers and large agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto. While I am not sure how feasible this final point is given my unfamiliarity with the growing techniques behind these commodities, it may be beneficial for cacao farmers to raise animals or cultivate honey in order to spread climate risk (de Groot). In general, climate-smart agriculture—an approach that combines various sustainable methods under a climate-change umbrella—that assesses climate change-related risks and requirements of a farm and subsequently tackles those challenges using practices crafted for that particular situation is key to success in the coming decades.

In our class, we discussed industrial chocolate production as well as consumption, both practices that are generally decoupled from on-farm production. Fortunately, industrial chocolate corporations have a large incentive to help with damage control and mitigation. MARS is a fantastic example of corporate initiative: the company plans to slash carbon pollution from its products by 67 percent come mid-century (Simon). This includes reducing emissions from land use changes and agriculture, and the company has even gone a step further by offering resources to help farmers increase yields, though they don’t disclose any specifics (Simon). The five global titans of chocolate—Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars—should work together with consumers and defy the ugly “Big Sugar” stereotype considering we all share a common enemy: climate change. In terms of consumers themselves, our research from class suggests that people should seek out responsible, sustainable companies that give fair treatment to farmers. Whole Foods and other specialty stores, for example, boast a great selection of fair trade and organic bars such as Taza, Chuao, and Endangered Species. Consumers who have already caught wind of the possible “cacao crisis” are understandably uneasy, but they’ll be happy to know that research suggests climate change will not have an effect on the taste of cacao—that is, assuming the crop isn’t wiped out entirely (Sukha et al 255). For further information, videos such as the following can help to spell things out in a more informative and empowering way:

Realistically, we simply have no way of accurately predicting what the future climate will look like. With that said, the cacao belt appears to have a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability across its latitudinal axis, with the most susceptible areas near the forest-savanna transition in eastern Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Cameroon. Farmers will face the challenging task of controlling as many factors as possible in a progressively erratic world, so I recommend they look towards specialized companies such as The Climate Corporation—a digital agriculture company that examines weather, soil, and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors on their fields—while employing the many protective measures mentioned above. Moving forward will require a team effort that ranges across the chocolate production and consumption chains, but because most changes in climatic suitability are predicted to take place over a time period of nearly 40 years, we have a full generation of cacao trees and farmers to adapt.

So, who will win the fight: climate or chocolate? Let’s not leave it to chance.

 

Works Cited: 

Anga, Jean-Marc. “International Cacao Organization.” The International Cacao Organization; Cacao Producing and Cacao Consuming Countries, ICCO, May 2018.

Bunn, Christian, and Mark Lundy. “Bittersweet Chocolate: The Climate Change Impacts on Cacao Production in Ghana.” CGIAR Research Program, 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Colina, Antonio. “Cacao Developemnt in Davao Region.” Davao Integrated Development Program, 2014.

de Groot, Han. “Preparing Cacao Farmers for Climate Change.” Rainforest Alliance, EarthShare, 20 Sept. 2017.

Handley, Liam. “The Effects of Climate Change on the Reproductive Development of Theobroma Cacao.” ProQuest, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.

Jaramillo, Juliana, and Eric Muchugu. “Some Like It Hot: The Influence and Implications of Climate Change on Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus Hampei) and Coffee Production in East Africa.” PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 9, 14 Sept. 2011.

MacLennan, David W. “Our Changing Climate.” Our Changing Climate: Supporting Farmers to be Resilient in the Face of Changing Weather Patterns, Cargill, 2018.

Morton, J. F. “The Impact of Climate Change on Smallholder and Subsistence Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 50, 11 Dec. 2007, pp. 19680–19685.

Ojo, A.D., and I. Sadiq. “Effect of Climate Change on Cacao Yield: a Case of Cacao Research Institute (CRIN) Farm, Oluyole Local Government Ibadan Oyo State.” CABI , vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 350–358. CAB Direct.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Rajab, Yasmin Abou, and Christoph Leuschner. “Cacao Cultivation under Diverse Shade Tree Cover Allows High Carbon Storage and Sequestration without Yield Losses.” PLoS ONE, vol. 11, no. 2, 29 Feb. 2016.

Ruf, François, et al. “Climate Change, Cacao Migrations and Deforestation in West Africa: What Does the Past Tell us about the Future?” Sustainability Science, vol. 10, no. 1, 18 Nov. 2014, pp. 101–111.

Schroth, Götz, and Christian Bunn. “Vulnerability to Climate Change of Cacao in West Africa: Patterns, Opportunities and Limits to Adaptation.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 556, 15 June 2016, pp. 231–241. ELSEVIER.

Scott, Michon. “Climate and Chocolate .” Climate.gov, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10 Feb. 2016.

Simon, Rosie. “Climate Change Could Hurt Chocolate Production.” Yale Climate Connections, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 19 Oct. 2017.

Stroman, Lee. “Rethinking the Cacao Supply Chain.” AgThentic, Medium Corporation, 16 July 2017.

Sukha, D.a., and D.r. Butler. “The Impact Of Processing Location And Growing Environment On Flavor In Cacao (Theobroma Cacao L.); Implications For ‘Terroir’ and Certification.” Acta Horticulture, no. 1047, 2014, pp. 255–262. ISHS.