Tag Archives: ivory coast

Cocoa production and trade in Ivory Coast: Comparative advantage, Colonialism and Post-colonial ethnic conflicts.


The history of cocoa in West Africa goes back to late 1800’S where it was grown in the  Western parts of the Ivory Coast, close to Liberia, but it did not capture the attention of colonists until two decades later.(1) One of the many colonial legacies is that a lot of African countries inherited economies that relied heavily on the exportation of one commodity. Ivory Coast, for example, has become the leading producer of cocoa and it accounts for more than 15% of its GDP. While this is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, such a narrow economic base places the country at risk of volatile world prices and spillover effects from foreign markets that linked to cocoa. In article featured in Africa Business, early March 2019, the author notes that “between September 2016 and February 2017, the cocoa Barometer for 2018 reported that the global market price declined steeply, with a tonne of cocoa…declining from $3000 to $1900.”(2) This was a result of many factors including the lack of domestic infrastructure to store cocoa beans in season of high yield and less demand. This results in pressure to sell all the beans from one season before they go bad and the farmers have to throw them away.(2) Expectedly, farmers and labor workers who work in this industry were hit the hardest and the Ivory Coast lost about $1billion.

The story of cocoa production is very much an individual story as it is a national one. Source: MGgill Journal of Political Studies

Following this crisis, the government of Ivory Coast has been working with the African Development bank to “rehabilitate the industry with new programs and schemes to attract more young people into the industry.” (3) They are also focusing on creating more domestic chocolate processing factories to capitalize on their raw materials and capture more value from the production of cocoa.(3) However, this cocoa industry, like the agriculture industry in general, is still a risky business and can easily crumble down in times of floods, pest epidemics and other natural disasters. In this essay, I discuss the colonial origins that have shaped the current cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, their influence on the ongoing conflicts over cocoa related resources, and finally the need for Ivory Coast to diversify their economy to avoid the brutal effects of trade imbalances that may arise and exacerbate the conflicts.

Colonial roots of cocoa production in West Africa.

The colonial rule in most African countries not only shaped the economic evolution of many African states but also the political and the social. In order to understand this, it is important to understand the framework of institutions and how colonial rule helped shape the subsequent nature and shape that African institutions took in the postcolonial era. In their paper on institutions, “Understanding Institutions”, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that institutions- in other words how society is organized and functions- affect the economic performance of a country and account for the varying success in the performance of African countries post-colonialism. They find a strong correlation between extractive institutions and poor economic performance over a certain period of time. While there are some endogenous weaknesses in this analysis, it provides us the framework we need to understand the colonial effects of French rule in the Ivory Coast and how the cocoa industry became a battleground for elite ethnic groups.(4)

For the Ivory Coast, French colonial rule influenced how labor and land policies evolved over time- through both what it did and what it did not do. Firstly, because the country was sparsely populated, European settlers maintained strict laws on labor distribution through a quota system that prohibited African farmers from hiring labor until white farmers had their adequate supply of labor.(5) After the second world war, labor became increasingly scarce and many local farmers rallied against forced labor laws which led to “the cocoa boom of the 1950’s.”(5)  However, this also meant that demand for land increased dramatically as both locals and migrants scrambled to take part in the booming industry of cocoa production. Secondly, the colonial legacy of taking land without formal political and legal processes has fueled the culture of entitlement for most ethnic groups. In her paper on, “Neocolonialism or Balanced Partnership? Reframing Agricultural Relation Between the EU and Africa”, Ioana Lungu discusses the influence of colonial history in perpetuating the culture of land grabbing within a modern context. She argues that “land grabbing can be understood as a crisis of neoliberalism intersecting with neoliberal development narratives…” (6)

To reframe this within the Ivorian context, by claiming land without any institutional accountability, colonists set a foundation for future conflicts over land redistribution. As Dwayne Woods, an associate professor of political science, notes “generous concessions of land from forest reserves were authorised”. (5) To summarize, while the French had a legal framework for the distribution of labor from which Ivorians could build their own, there was none for land. A clear example of poor institutions is the absence of solid property rights that leave the elite in charge of redistribution. Thus, setting in motion the trend that would ultimately lead to extreme violence between tribes when these resources were no longer enough.The increasing costs of forest rent have become a major factor in the ethnic conflicts that are tearing apart the once socially and politically state of Ivory Coast. Forest rent is defined as the difference between “the cost of producing a kilogram of coca after clearing forest land and the cost of producing a kilogram of cocoa upon replanting.”(5)

This increase is as a result of multiple factors including the rise of land and labor costs over time as demand for arable land became higher. This also stems from the increasing marginal costs associated with re-planting cacao trees which was not there at the pioneer front- “sporadic development of unexploited tropical forest lands to plant cocoa trees”.(5) These marginal costs result from the increasing need for fertilizers, labor and better seeds to maintain the same level of production once the soil starts losing its original richness. With all these moving pieces, farmers become anxious to acquire more tropical forestland and the “cost of reclaiming land with violence is less than trying to mobilise the increased labour and capital costs to maintain the forest rent.” (5) However, one can argue that this aggressive demand for land is tied to the narrow economic base that the Ivory Coast, like many other African countries, inherited from their colonial histories. These populations have limited options for economic activities and continue to fight each other over the “most profitable” economic activity available to them- cocoa production.

Ethnic conflicts continue to increase within the region and cocoa seems to be at the center of this battle.

Economic development through Trade

This is going to become an even bigger problem as environmental groups push for less deforestation- that happens when farmers clear the forest in order to plant cocoa trees(7)- and land share becomes smaller for the demands rising population. Pests and diseases, old age cocoa farms and lack of soil nutrients have also contributed to the continuous decline of productivity and farms might not be able to meet the global demand for cocoa.(8) This would have larger implications if major buyers had to shift to other countries to acquire their supply demands. Yet, cocoa production still remains a major contributor to economic growth and urbanization in Ivory Coast. The question thus arises on whether Ivory Coast should invest in diversifying its economy away from the cocoa industry or if it should focus on creating interventions that increase productivity in the cocoa sector. There are various implications of either choice. As the lead producer of cocoa in the world, the Ivory Coast has gain tremendous economic profits from trading on the world market. These developments have gone beyond trading and had spillover effects in the rest of the economy resulting in urbanization and other economic development improvements.  

Fast growing economy over the last few years but declining over time.
Source: April, 2017 IMF outlooks

According to researcher Remi Jedwab, in his paper on, “Why is African Urbanization Different? Evidence from Resource Exports in Ghana and Ivory Coast”, argues that cocoa booms have led to city booms and consequently economic growth. He disputes the idea that structural transformations such as the green economy and the industrial revolution that accounted for the development of cities through their effect on labor mobility in the West apply in the African context. He then proceeds to argue that, for countries like the Ivory Coast, urbanization trajectory has been closely interconnected with that of cocoa production.(7) He notes that cocoa production, like urban growth, started in the East of the country and moved towards the West, but cities in the East did not collapse as more cities were formed in the West. He found that about 80% urban growth in the Ivory Coast happened in areas suitable for cocoa production and traces the trajectory as it moved East to West. That being said, it is important to maintain that correlation is not necessary causation. This urbanization could be a result of infrastructural investment and labor migration to areas of cocoa production due to its central place in the general economy. If most jobs are generated within the Agriculture sector, and more precisely cocoa production, then more people will follow wherever the industry seems to be heading.

Yet, we have seen that Ivory Coast is moving towards industrialization. The government is investing increasing both yield per ha and factories that manufacture various cocoa products. This means capturing as much value from the supply chain as possible through creating a range of factories from grinding entities to chocolate-making companies.(9) It is working towards expanding the secondary market that processes products from cocoa to reduce tensions surrounding land acquisition. This is also an attempt to create a market for their surplus and address the issue of declining cocoa prices that has resulted from a supply surplus and “substantial reserve held by consuming countries”.(9) The latter is another consideration for the Ivory Coast when evaluating its position in the world market as a country with the highest comparative advantage in cocoa production. As noted by the OECD, in a report on cocoa production by the Ivory Coast, developed countries took advantage of falling prices to store reserves and thus changing the trading landscape. Ivory Coast, and other African producers of cocoa, remain price takers because of low investment in reserves and the lack of regulation policies that protect local farmers. The result of a limited market creates tensions in which the elites struggle to accumulate all profits from cocoa along ethnic and tribal lines. This leaves farmers insecure about the safety and sustainability of their businesses and in turn affects their production capacity as well as their livelihood.

Conclusive remarks

So far, we have studied two difficult problems. On one hand, the comparative advantage that Ivory Coast has in cocoa production has not realized its full potential due to lack or limited complimentary infrastructure and policy framework to protect farmers and the economy in general. This lack of policy framework and infrastructure is a result of a combination of factors including the legacy of colonial institutions, poor leadership, and ethnic diversity along economic lines. On the other hand, we have seen an opportunity within this problem. The possibilities to diversify within the cocoa producing sectors by creating secondary markets through which the now majority youth working in the cocoa sector can transfer. I also discussed, briefly, the need for diversification to other sectors and other exports that do not rely on acquisition of big lands and that doesn’t require high labor demands. Alternatively, the Ivory Coast can consider investing in mechanized systems of cocoa production along with new education practices that allow the current labor surplus to transition in other sectors. Additionally, the new trade agreement among African countries to open borders- remove tariffs, allow labor mobility might help address this issue in the long run as more people have the choice of immigrating to other countries where they can contribute. That being said, this cannot solved without a political commitment by the government to address these challenges without partiality and with accountability.


1.Oecd.org. Retrieved 3 May 2019, from https://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf

2. Adding value is way forward for cocoa producers – African Business Magazine. (2019). African Business Magazine. Retrieved 3 May 2019, from https://africanbusinessmagazine.com/sectors/agriculture/adding-value-is-way-forward-for-cocoa-producers/

3. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire seek $1.2bn loan to revitalize cocoa industries. (2018). confectionerynews.com. Retrieved 3 May 2019, from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/08/09/Ghana-and-Cote-d-Ivoire-seek-1.2bn-loan-to-revitalize-cocoa-industries

4.(2019). Economics.mit.edu. Retrieved 3 May 2019, from https://economics.mit.edu/files/1353

5. Woods, D. (2003, December 23). The tragedy of the cocoa pod: Rent-seeking, land and ethnic conflict in Ivory Coast | The Journal of Modern African Studies. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies/article/tragedy-of-the-cocoa-pod-rentseeking-land-and-ethnic-conflict-in-ivory-coast/0BC296AE5413C02D81255DF2FE1356A7

6. Lungu, & Ioana. (2017, December 01). Neocolonialism or Balanced Partnership? Reframing Agricultural Relations Between the EU and Africa. Retrieved from https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/83112/

7.(PDF) Why Is African Urbanization Different? Evidence from … (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267386204_Why_Is_African_Urbanization_Different_Evidence_from_Resource_Exports_in_Ghana_and_Ivory_Coast

Climate Change & Cacao Farmers… Recipe for Disaster??

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them…

Albert Einstein


Climate Change is when long term weather patterns are altered, though this can occur naturally within ecosystems, it can also be caused by human interaction with the environment. The ramifications of future climate change on the cacao industry are devastating. The specific effect of increasing global temperatures will be discussed within relation to those most affected by it within the cacao production chain; small farmers. It is only through study and education that cacao cultivators can learn to plan and adapt to the ever increasing chaos that is climate change.

Theobroma Cacao (cacao tree) is endemic to the tropical area from Southern Mexico to the Amazon basin. Cacao is geographically sensitive, having a limited growth region between 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. However, as cacao production globalized, the vast majority is now farmed in a small range 10 degrees north and south of the equator. Cacao is a very sensitive crop and for it to successfully grow many conditions must be met within the ecosystem including high humidity and a short dry season. Consistent temperatures between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius are required in a region with high rain and nitrogen rich soil (Lecture Notes). Ultimately, rainforests and tropical wet environments are where cacao flourishes. The difficulty of growing cacao is what makes it such a valuable asset. Historically, it was the difficulty in attaining cacao from the new world that made it such an important social commodity within Europe.

In 1896, a Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius proposed the theory of global warming. He hypothesized that increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) within the atmosphere would increase the temperature on the planet’s surface. He concluded that the industrial revolution and its use of fossil fuel burning was significant enough to Earth’s environment to cause global warming. Since Professor Arrhenius proposed the idea of global warming, there has been a 1.7% increase in annual global temperature and air quality has the highest carbon dioxide levels seen in 650,000 years.


Chart showing Historical Increases in Annual Global Temperature

Image result for historic temperatures global

Centuries of exploitation and experimentation, led to Theobroma Cacao being transplanted globally to where the leading producers of cacao are now Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in Western Africa produce more than half of the world’s chocolate. However, research shown in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that, those countries will experience a 3.8°F (2.1°C) increase in temperature by 2050, and a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Laderach et. al).


Suitability for Cacao Production West Africa

Image result for laderach et al ghana

As seen in the maps above, by the year 2050, increasing temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The IPCC reported that Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana’s optimal altitude for cacao cultivation is expected to rise from 350–800 feet (100–250 meters) to 1,500–1,600 feet (450–500 meters) above sea level (Laderach et. al). Ironically, it is not the increase in surface temperature associated with global warming that will affect cacao production, but rather evapotranspiration.


Evapotranspiration Cycle

Image result for transpiration

Evapotranspiration is the loss of water that occurs from the processes of evaporation and transpiration. Evaporation occurs when water changes to vapour on either soil or plant surfaces, transpiration is the water lost through the leaves of plants. The danger to cacao production comes from increasing evapotranspiration, the higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall, according to standard carbon dioxide emissions scenarios. Ultimately, as higher temperatures squeeze more water out of soil and plants, it’s unlikely that rainfall will increase enough to offset the moisture loss.

The majority of global cacao is produced by small landholders, meaning those owning less than five acres. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in Western Africa have over two million cacao producing farmers, all succeptible to the fluctuating price of cacao. Climate change threatens the health and local economy of farmers who depend on income from cocoa for survival. The inherent risks associated with cash cropping (physical dangers to self, lack of regulation) are faced by cacao producers.

In a geographic area where climate change will be exceptionally disruptive, cocoa covers over 5 million acres in Cote d’Ivoire and 3 million in Ghana, more than anywhere else on the globe (Ruf et al). Due to the small land size of privately owned farms, production is predominantly only cacao leaving the farmer vulnerable for hunger as no other crops are produced. The remote location of the farms limits much needed access for improvement. Meaning, the lack of access to a proper infrastructure decreases the possibility of higher cacao production. Farmers do not have access to tools needed for improvement; equipment, seedlings, transportation. Cacao is labour intensive, from seedling to packaged treat. A major problem affecting cacao producers is finding suitable labour. As cacao is grown in mostly third world countries, there are third world problems. One being, the exodus of youth from rural to urban areas which leaves an aging farming population with nobody to continue the family tradition.

The timeline to produce cacao beans is 3 to 5 years. The ever increasing demand for chocolate within Europe and North America (11 pounds consumed annually) outweighs the amount that will be able to be produced due to climate change. RESULTS = CHOCOLATE SHORTAGE

Climate change vastly alters cultivation conditions. In West Africa, for cacao production to survive in the future it needs to be relocated to a more rugged or low mountainous terrain. Though that sounds like a simple solution; move the farms, it is an impossibility without disrupting the cultural, social and economic lifestyles of millions of people. In Ghana, the perfect future growing conditions will be located in the Atewa Range (a protected reserve) where farming is prohibited. A true dilemma for Ghana farmers; illegal deforest to grow cacao or preserve the nature reserve for future generations?

What is ironic is that the deforestation experienced in West Africa, specifically Côte d’Ivoire, was somewhat based on creating cacao plantations. Cacao has been referred to as a pioneer crop; something grown after the forest has been cleared. Instead of replanting aging and dying plantations, many farmers found it easier to migrate to the edge of forests and start new plantations. 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). With rampant poverty running through West Africa, little consequence is given to environmental concerns when personal and familial survival is at stake.

Education is needed for cocoa farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture (CSA). These are practices that foster resilience to climate change while sustainably increasing cocoa productivity. The private sector plays an integral part in the long-term sustainability of the cocoa sector and action is needed to further their investment and engagement in measures that will enable farmers and the industry to adapt to pressures from climate change (deGroot).

There are ways of protecting cacao from current and impending climate change; one is to have companion trees. Cacao trees can be protected from high temperatures by planting companion trees such as banana or plantain. If properly spaced and maintained, these trees can protect cacao from soaring temperatures. This method of farming can reduce cacao leaf temperatures 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).

Companion trees offer many side benefits for cacao farmers. They offer ventilation which helps to reduce the incidences of fungus on cacao. Plus, by planting companion trees the farmer is increasing and varying the farms productivity. Instead of solely relying on cacao for financial survival there is a second or third crop that can produced for profit while helping cacao to flourish. By adding companion trees the biodiversity of the ecosystem is improved. A true win – win?? As positive as the use of shadow crops sounds, there are of course disadvantages including the possibility of severe drought. When there is limited access to water, the shadow trees could take needed water away from the cacao tree.

Currently, there is a race against time to develop new varieties of cacao that can help combat not only increased temperature from climate change but also a variant that would be hardier. The large chocolate manufacturers (Big Chocolate) are working with scientists and farmers to develop a disease immune and drought resistant strain of cacao. There are many critics who dispute altering cacao for taste and historic concerns but with the impeding change of climate, Big Chocolate is investing in science for its survival.


Various Types Cacao

Related image

With cacao being such a temperamental crop to grow, it is no surprise that the seeds are recalcitrant. This means that the seeds do not survive the drying and freezing process because they lose their viability in temperatures less than 10 degrees celcius. Cacao beans cannot be stored in regular gene banks, so breeders have difficulty maintaining different strains. Geographically, climate change is altering where natural cacao is grown. With deforestation, pollution and increase in urbanization; seeds must be safely stored to ensure the diversity of cacao. The sustainability and diversity of cacao must be preserved, it is surprising that the private sector has not come further in ensuring the continued survival of original cacao strands.

Where will the epicenter of future cacao production be? With West Africa losing up to 90% of its suitable cacao growing areas, who will dominate the future cacao trade? There are too many variables to hypothesize an answer. Besides the aforementioned effects of climate change that will decimate cacao production, add in unstable political regimes and potential military conflicts. Education and scientific experimentation are the only viable solutions for the continuation of cacao production.



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

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

Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G. et al. Climatic Change (2013) 119: 841. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8

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

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.

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

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

Smith, M. (2016). Climate & Chocolate | NOAA Climate.gov. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

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.


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.


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.



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


There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)

  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.

Chocolate with an Impact

There is merit to the ways both the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company and Guittard Chocolate Company approach chocolate production. For its part, Omanhene sees itself as going “Beyond Fair Trade,”[1] and in its approach, takes into account things such as farmer’s wages, environmental impact, and the use of children as laborers. Guittard, a Fair Trade company, also addresses issues such as these. I contend that while Omanhene’s approach is effective in some regards, Guittard’s is more effective in undermining child slavery.

The terms “global south” and “global north” are classifications for kinds of countries, and such classifications are relevant to discussions of the concept of Fair Trade. Thomas Erikson states that “at a very general level, the Global North is associated with stable state organization, an economy largely under (state) control and – accordingly – a dominant formal sector,” and that “the recipients of foreign aid… belong to the Global South.”[2] As Ndongo Sylla recounts, the concept of “Fair Trade appeared as a specific response to the development challenge in the South. It refers to a form of solidarity approach that aims to ensure decent income for producers and workers of the South,” as it pertains to the trade they engage in with the Global North.[3] One aspect of Fair Trade is that the producer organizations involved are arranged as “associations” or “cooperatives,” mainly because the amounts of goods produced on family farms are too small to be exported.[4]

The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company used to be fair trade certified, but due to disagreements that its founder, Steven Wallace, has with certain aspects of Fair Trade certification, the company has since foregone this practice. One reason for Omanhene’s departure has to do with the fair trade requirement that certified companies buy cocoa beans only from farmer cooperatives. In Ghana, where the company purchases its cocoa, most of the family-owned cocoa farms are not part of such cooperatives, and Omanhene deems it unjust to force these farmers to join one. Wallace also accuses some Fair Trade certification agencies of putting great emphasis on the compensation given to farmer cooperatives, but not putting enough priority on other issues, such as child labor. Moreover, regarding farmer incomes, Omanhene seeks to help Ghanaian farmers obtain revenues not only from raw cocoa beans, but also from the things that the cocoa is used to make (such as chocolate), which are worth more than the raw beans are themselves. Such a goal, at least in Wallace’s view, is not emphasized by Fair Trade. As result of disagreements such as these, Omanhene now engages in business practices that its founder describes as ‘beyond fair trade’.[5]

In his description of Fair Trade’s founders, Ndongo Sylla recounts that they felt that “international aid creates passivity and dependency among beneficiary populations.”[6] Sylla classifies their ideas as reminiscent of the “Trade not Aid” slogan of another, similar movement.[7] Wallace of Omanhene Cocoa seems to echo this aversion to aid, holding that his company is “not a charity.”[8] Moreover, Wallace seems to call into question Fair Trade’s ability to be more than just a charity. He classifies the “ ‘fair trade’ ” price given to cooperatives as a “unilateral subsidy,” which relies on the “charitable intent” of buyers willing to pay this extra amount, and he questions the ability of such a system to continue over time.[9]

One of the issues regarding cocoa production, which Omanhene seems committed to rectifying, is the need to empower communities in which cocoa beans are produced. Partly with the help of wages earned as a result of their partnership with Omanhene, some cocoa farmers in Ghana have been able to send their children to private school.[10] Additionally, however, Omanhene uses cocoa beans that are entirely from Ghana, and also manufactures its chocolate in Ghana. This policy, according to founder Steven Wallace, allows Ghanaians to “reap the added value from the processing of their beans into chocolate.”[11] He articulates that the processing of cocoa “constitutes the most significant portion of wealth in the cocoa value chain, ” and so, manufacturing chocolate in Ghana helps both the cocoa farmers and the factory workers in Ghana that turn the beans into chocolate.[12] The company also provides its factory workers with benefits such as “free medical care for themselves and their families, free meals at the factory, free uniforms, free transportation to work and subsidized housing.” Moreover, all line workers hold equity shares in the factory.[13]


The above video discusses one of the issues with cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast. We see that farmers don’t get compensated enough, and moreover, can’t afford fertilizers that would increase their income. Although the government has fixed the price of cocoa in order to improve the fortunes of farmers, buyers pay it no heed. The video pretty clearly promotes Fair Trade as a way of improving the outcomes for cocoa farmers.


This video depicts another pertinent issue regarding farming on the Ivory Coast– the use of child slavery.

As Orla Ryan recounts, The International Labour Convention 182 puts slavery and hazardous work under its classification of the worst forms of child labor. Hazardous labor on cocoa plantations could include the use of dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals. Research in the past has shown that, although there may be some child slave labor used on the Ivory Coast, it is much more often “family labor,” or labor by children for parents or other relatives. Still, it has been estimated that many children (slaves or otherwise) labor on cocoa farms, and that the work they do is often hazardous.[14]

The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company professes to ensure that its cocoa is not harvested with the use of child slavery by not sourcing any of it from places like the Ivory Coast, where such labor has been reported.[15] As previously stated, Omanhene’s cocoa beans are entirely from Ghana, where Omanhene has claimed that “there has been no documented use of child slave labor.”[16] To its credit, Omanhene cites a study conducted by the government of Ghana on Child Labour Practices, the early results of which show that “the overwhelming majority of children [in Ghana] live on farms owned by a close family member… and that over 90% of children on cocoa farms attend school on a regular basis,” which makes child slavery unlikely.[17]

The Guittard Chocolate Company is another company that prides itself on the way it treats the farmers that grow its cocoa. The premiums that Guittard has given farmers have gone toward projects aimed at helping communities. For example, their website states that the Oro Verde cooperative has been able to use such premiums to pay for “ ‘health days,’ ” in which doctors and dentists go to communities and give free medical advice and medication to members of the cooperative. Moreover, the CONACADO cooperative has used premiums to construct an aqueduct and piping system that has brought water to hundreds of families. Regarding education, Guittard’s website mentions a village in the Ivory Coast in which a lack of schools created a burden for children that had to walk long distances just to attend. Thanks to premiums, the CORES cooperative was able to build a school, and many of its attendees are the children of cocoa farmers. Regarding child labor, Guittard is a member of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which seeks to ensure the protection of children in communities where cocoa is farmed.[18]

The company’s mention of educational opportunities created in the Ivory Coast calls Omanhene’s approach, which is not to source from the region, into question. By working with cocoa farmers on the Ivory Coast, Guittard allows the country to benefit from the additional premiums they provide. These premiums have been used, in part at least, to benefit the nation’s children by offering them greater educational opportunity. It stands to reason that a child without the opportunity to attend school will be more likely to fall victim to child slavery. Taking a hard stance against working with the Ivory Coast means that its cocoa farmers, and their children, are unable to benefit from Fair Trade (or “Beyond Fair Trade”) practices.


Women’s empowerment has been identified as another crucial aspect of improving the outcomes of cocoa farming families. The above image depicts a female cocoa farmer, and can be found on Guittard Chocolates’ Twitter page. The hash tag #GloCo2017 refers to the Global Conference on Women in Cocoa, which was held on February 16-17, 2017, in Accra, Ghana.[19]

Guittard Chocolate has made a point of counteracting gender inequality in the cocoa market. As its website states, women oftentimes aren’t given access to resources and training for cocoa farmers. This, in addition to negatively affecting women, reduces the income of families as a whole. The company is part of the World Cocoa Foundation’s Cocoa Livelihood Program, through which women are receiving skills that will make them better farmers, which increases their production of cocoa and other food crops. This allows them to bring in more income for themselves.[20]

Guittard, in the aforementioned twitter post, increases public visibility of those involved in the making of chocolate, and also seems to wish to increase awareness regarding the struggles such individuals face. The caption of the tweet reads “The demands on a female cocoa farmer are many,” while the female depicted simultaneously appears to be sorting cocoa beans and carrying a child on her back. However, some might disagree with this kind of imagery. Kristy Leissle speaks of advertisements made by Divine Chocolate, which show female cocoa farmers in Ghana. In these advertisements, women are depicted as “owners of the chocolate company,” as opposed to “narratives that cast Africa as… in an eternal developmental lag.”[21] Although the woman in Guittard’s photo certainly seems happy, there is a stark contrast between this depiction and those used in the Divine chocolate ads.


Environmental sustainability is another pertinent issue as it pertains to cocoa farming. The above video is from Equal Exchange, another company that attempts to source cocoa responsibly. In the video, the company describes its commitment to fighting the effects of climate change, and support of “farm level” solutions. They also elucidate that farmer cooperatives that are supported by Fair Trade are able to share the knowledge of sustainable farming practices amongst one another.

Both Omanhene and Guittard address the environmental concerns present in cocoa farming. As previously alluded, Omanhene “manufactur[es] locally” in Ghana. This reduces the negative environmental impact that would otherwise result from having to transport cocoa beans over large distances to be processed.[22] The Guittard Chocolate Company’s practice of using shade-grown cacao both protects the cacao pods from receiving too much direct sunlight, and helps to protect the jungle environment around the crops.[23] Moreover, the Cocoa of Excellence program, with which Guittard is a partner, increases the capability of countries with cocoa farmers to protect the quality and diversity of the crop.[24]

Guittard and Omanhene seem to represent slightly different philosophies on ethical cocoa sourcing. While Guittard is a Fair Trade member willing to work with farmers in the Ivory Coast, Omanhene has discontinued Fair Trade membership due to ideological issues with the movement, and also, as a matter of policy, refuses to do work in places such as the Ivory Coast. As to which brand has the more effective policies, both seem to be making efforts, in several ways, to improve the lots of the workers that farm the cocoa used to produce their chocolate. However, it is unclear how Omanhene’s policy of not working with the Ivory Coast actually works to counteract the extant child slavery in the nation. In addition, by isolating itself from the Ivory Coast, Omanhene deprives these farmers of the wages and benefits that it, as a company, can help provide. Guittard, it seems, by its involvement in the region, is more poised to make an impact against child slavery.

[1] Steven Wallace, “ ‘Beyond Fair Trade’ Philosophy.” Accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.omanhene.com/about-omanhene-chocolate-cocoa/beyond-fair-trade/.

[2] Thomas Hylland Eriksen, “What’s Wrong with the Global North and the Global South?” from Concepts of the Global South. Global South Studies Center Cologne, January 2015. Accessed May 6, 2017, http://gssc.uni-koeln.de/node/451.

[3] Ndongo Samba Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, trans. David Clément Leye. Athens, Ohio. Ohio University Press: 2014., p. 64.

[4] Ibid., 77-78.

[5] Wallace, “ ‘Beyond Fair Trade’ Philosophy.” Accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.omanhene.com/about-omanhene-chocolate-cocoa/beyond-fair-trade/.

[6] Roozen, Nico and van der Hoff, Frans (2002) L’Aventure du Commerce

équitable: une alternative à la mondialisation [The Fair Trade Journey: An

Alternative to Globalization], cited in Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich., p.73.

[7] Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich., p.73.

[8] Wallace, “ ‘Beyond Fair Trade’ Philosophy.” Accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.omanhene.com/about-omanhene-chocolate-cocoa/beyond-fair-trade/.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Steven Wallace, “The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company’s Communication on Progress 2014: The United Nations Global Compact.” Prepared on March 24, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.omanhene.com/wp-content/uploads/Global-Compact-COP-2014.pdf, title page.

[11] Ibid., 9.

[12] Ibid., 9.

[13] Ibid., 10.

[14] Orla Ryan, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. New York, NY. Zed Books Ltd: 2011., p.47-48.

[15] Wallace, “The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company’s Communication on Progress 2014: The United Nations Global Compact,” p.8.

[16] Ibid., 8.

[17] Ibid., 7.

[18] Guittard Chocolate Company. “Honorable Sourcing.” Accessed May 6, 2017, https://www.guittard.com/cultivate-better/honorable-sourcing.

[19]World Cocoa Foundation. “WCF January & February 2017” Accessed May 7, 2017, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wcf-january-february-2017/.

[20] Guittard Chocolate Company. “Honorable Sourcing.” Accessed May 6, 2017, https://www.guittard.com/cultivate-better/honorable-sourcing.

[21] Kristy Leissle, “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139. Routledge: 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194, p. 121.

[22] Wallace, “ ‘Beyond Fair Trade’ Philosophy.” Accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.omanhene.com/about-omanhene-chocolate-cocoa/beyond-fair-trade/.

[23] Guittard Chocolate Company. “Honorable Sourcing.” Accessed May 6, 2017, https://www.guittard.com/cultivate-better/honorable-sourcing.

[24] Ibid.


Cocoa of Excellence. Organization, Partners & Sponsors.” Accessed May 8, 2017. http://www.cocoaofexcellence.org/about-us/organizers-partners-sponsors/

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. “What’s Wrong with the Global North and the Global South?” from Concepts of the Global South. Global South Studies Center Cologne, January 2015. Accessed May 8, 2017. http://gssc.uni-koeln.de/node/451.

Guittard Chocolate Company. “Honorable Sourcing.” Accessed May 6, 2017. https://www.guittard.com/cultivate-better/honorable-sourcing.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139. Routledge: 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. New York, NY. Zed Books Ltd: 2011.

“Slave Free Chocolate.” Last modified January 19, 2009. Accessed May 5, 2009. http://vision.ucsd.edu/~kbranson/stopchocolateslavery/main.html.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Translated by David Clément Leye. Athens, Ohio. Ohio University Press: 2014.

Wallace, Steven. “ ‘Beyond Fair Trade’ Philosophy.” Accessed May 6, 2017. http://www.omanhene.com/about-omanhene-chocolate-cocoa/beyond-fair-trade/.

Wallace, Steven. “The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company’s Communication on Progress 2014: The United Nations Global Compact.” Prepared on March 24, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2017. http://www.omanhene.com/wp-content/uploads/Global-Compact-COP-2014.pdf,

World Cocoa Foundation. “WCF January & February 2017” Accessed May 7, 2017. http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wcf-january-february-2017/.

Media Sources:

  1. Ivory Coast’s bittersweet cocoa industry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA-dm0TSmpk
  2. Chocolate Child Slaves- CNN. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM
  3. https://twitter.com/GuittardChoco/status/832229688214962177/photo/1
  4. Equal Exchange: Fair Trade & Our Environment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYzl_YwTULk

The Development of the Atlantic Slave Trade into Modern Day Slavery in Cacao Growing Regions

The Atlantic slave trade was much more complicated than your middle school teachers may have lead you to believe.  Common knowledge rarely acknowledge the complexity of the economics of the slave trade, its far-reaching consequences, and the specific, long-lasting impact it had in cacao growing regions. The slave trade presented challenges to the chocolate industry as it pitted economic necessity against shady moral practices. I argue that over the course of its history, the slave trade created such profound inequalities that even though it was abolished in the mid- to late-1800s, the essence of slavery still exists today.

The Atlantic slave trade had in the New World.  Europeans forced indigenous populations to work which produced a dangerous power dynamic from which the Europeans benefitted for centuries. The Europeans that migrated to the Americas would encroach on indigenous land. By taking ownership of that land, the settlers forced those residing on it already to work for them under extremely undesirable conditions, especially in cacao growing regions where the days were long and unimaginably hot. This developed into “chattel slavery” which means that those enslaved were regarded as property and could be traded as a commodity (Martin lecture). As they burned through the indigenous population, Europeans were pressured to meet a growing demand for labor. They found a new source in Africa.

In order to understand the connection between slavery and cacao, we must first understand under what conditions the slave trade developed in cacao growing regions. Rodney explains in his article that “slavery prevailed on the African continent before the arrival of the Europeans” which implies that African society was susceptible to European manipulation  (Rodney, 431). Europeans looked to Africa simply because they needed more cheap labor and the western coast was the most economically viable. On top of the preexisting societal structure, the addition of the Atlantic slave trade proved disastrous and demonstrates why “it was [that] only after two and a half centuries of slave-trading that the vast majority of the peoples of the Upper Guinea Coast were said to have been living in a state of subjection” (Rodney, 434). The compounded effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the already-problematic African regions left lasting impacts on its people and culture.

Take a look at this video by Anthony Hazard and published by TED-Ed which details the nuances of the slave trade.

This video points out how the culture of Africa was heavily affected by the Atlantic slave trade. Europeans would pit tribes against each other. This created an environment where Africans of different communities would be abducting each other to sell into slavery across the Atlantic in exchange for weapons or safety. The video uses simple animation and voiceover to convey how uniformly destructive the slave trade was to the African economy and culture.

As the abolition movement emerged, the Atlantic slave trade began to change. The abolition movement always existed among slaves and gained momentum after the Haitian Revolution in 1789. This was a pivotal moment because it was the biggest slave revolt to date. At the time, Haiti was an exceptionally valuable asset to France because it exported nearly half of the world’s coffee and sugar (Martin lecture). A significant amount of people depended on the slave trade, either directly or indirectly, through the products it produced. For the enslaved population to overthrow such a dominant colonial power inspired others across the world and spurred the abolition movement forward. Slowly, the Atlantic slave trade began to diminish. Finally, in 1888, Britain was the last place to abolish slavery.

Yet, the abolition process was gradual and hard-fought. You can plainly see in the picture how it was satirized for its very slow implementation.

This image is particularly relevant because it incorporates the dependence on sugar that Europeans had formed. Mintz writes that sugar “had become an essential ingredient in the British national diet” and that “it was consumed daily by almost every living Briton” (Mintz, 187). The fact that he uses words like “national diet” is significant. It implicates everyone in the consumption of sugar. Since sugar is a common ingredient used with cacao, this figure really identifies how everyone is implicated in the slave trade as an extension of consuming sugar and chocolate. This speaks to the reason for the delay in abolishing it: the final product was too tantalizing and the consumers were too far removed. This is also representative of our mentality today.

The Atlantic slave trade left deep-seated damage to the African regions which it affected, the most important of which is the legacy of slavery. There was a compounded effect as the emphasis shifted to cacao growing regions for mass production. Today, “[a]pproximately two-thirds of the cocoa destined for the world market is produced on West African farms” (Manzo, 529). The exploitative power dynamic is still so strong that modern day slavery still exists in the form of coerced labor. Watch this video to catch a glimpse of what life is like for a child working on a cacao farm on the Ivory Coast today.

After slavery was largely abolished in the Americas around 1850, the geographic regions where cacao was being grown changed. The focus transferred to Fiji, Mauritius, and the Ivory Coast, as seen in the video. In this shift, “many small farmers [became] dependent for their livelihood on cocoa, and it is this smallholder production that accounts for most of the large increase in production and export from the Ivory Coast in the 1990s” (Manzo, 529). This is significant because it demonstrates how when colonial powers “abolished” slavery they just created a vacancy for multinational companies to exploit deprived workers who were already suffering from the consequences of the slave trade. The parallels between the old slave trade and modern day child slavery are substantial. The modern day-version still sees the power struggle between powerful landowners who offer an exchange for laborers. This turns Africans against each other. You can see this situation play out in the video where the boy was brought to the cacao farm when his father died. Another parallel is the forced labor in extreme conditions with unsatisfactory clothing. Modern day laborers are being “paid” in the form of room and board but this prevents them from accumulating any considerable amount of money that would allow them to leave, just like colonial powers used to enslave entire families based on who was living on their property.

Even though the slave trade has developed and adapted over the past hundreds of years—even after it has been “abolished”—there is no question that slavery still exists today. Furthermore, it implicates everyone (just as it did back then) because it is the chocolate industry that is exploiting people. It follows that because we all consume chocolate, we all are culpable in its prolonging. This means that it is up to the consumers to stop distancing themselves from the origins of their chocolate and learn about the production of cacao.

Works Cited


Manzo, Kate. “Modern Slavery, Global Capitalism & Deproletarianisation in West Africa.” Review of African Political Economy, vol. 32, no. 106, 2005, pp. 521–534.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AFRAMER 119X. Harvard University. CGIS South, Cambridge. March 1. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Rodney, Walter. “African Slavery and Other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade” Journal of African History, vn, 3 (1966), pp. 431-443

TED-Ed. “The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you – Anthony Hazard” December 22, 2014. Web. March 6 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NXC4Q_4JVg&t=1s&gt;.

BreakingNews56. “Chocolate Child Slaves-CNN.” Jan 16, 2012. Web. March 6, 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM>.

Cruikshank, Isaac. The Gradual Abolition of the Slave Trade: Or Leaving of Sugar by Degrees in 1792. Digital image. Website: <http://activehistory.ca/2010/06/%E2%80%9Cwhen-people-eat-chocolate-they-are-eating-my-flesh%E2%80%9D-slavery-and-the-dark-side-of-chocolate/&gt; N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2017. <http://activehistory.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/The-Gradual-Abolition1.jpg&gt;.

Cacao Moves Across the World

What catalyzed the relocation of the world’s cacao cultivation from Central America to the West African coast?


Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 9.09.03 PM

(Source: Nicolas Rapp via Fortune, 2016)

Although cacao and chocolate are native to Central America, 70 percent of the world’s cacao is produced in Africa. According to a 2012 cacao market report, the majority of cacao is specifically produced in West Africa, with the Ivory Coast and Ghana as the leading producers of cacao, respectively (Presilla, 2009:123). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are followed by Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, and Ecuador, respectively (Coe and Coe, 2013:196-197). The relocation of the world’s cacao cultivation from Central America to the West African coast was catalyzed by 1) the transformation of cacao cultivation into a for-profit venture by European colonial powers and 2) the Portuguese transportation of Forastero cacao to West Africa.

Cacao’s Journey Across the Equator

(Source: Google Maps, 2017)
Cacao trees thrive in the climate conditions existing near the equator, between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south (Presilla, 2009:44). Because the cacao trees need a hot climate, rainfall, and little fluctuation in temperature, only a select number of countries are capable of producing cacao.


Genetic origins of cacao:

Modern scientists locate the genetic origins of the cacao tree in South America, specifically in the Amazon River basin and in modern-day Venezuela (Presilla,2009:8).

Cultural origin of cacao cultivation:

By the second millennium BC, the seeds of cacao trees native to South America were brought northward to Mesoamerica, or the modern-day area between Mexico and Honduras, including Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador (Presilla, 2009:8). From the Olmec to the Maya and the Aztecs, the chocolate mixtures were used to prepare hot and cold beverages (Presilla, 2009:8). Initially, natives had cultivated cacao trees to consume cacao as a fruit, but over time, natives discovered that the seeds could be dried, fermented, and ground to create chocolate mixtures.

Europeans encounter chocolate, and like it (A LOT):

Until Christopher Columbus arrived in Mesoamerica in the sixteenth century, no European had encountered cacao. Although Columbus returned to Spain from the New World with cacao beans, the Spanish would not taste chocolate until 1544 when the beverage was presented to the future Phillip II by a delegation of Kekchi Maya.

Upon taking up the drinking of chocolate, the Spanish made cacao cultivation a for-profit venture in its colonies. (Presilla, 2009:24). Hence, cacao was transformed from a barter item into a cash crop in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador (Presilla, 2009:28). The cultivation of cacao as a cash crop required an immense amount of labor. In the beginning, indigenous peoples worked the cacao plantations, but their populations would be decimated by disease introduced by the Europeans (Presilla, 2009:28). Cacao production could not keep up with a rising demand for chocolate, especially as chocolate-drinking spread through Europe. Within 50-60 years, the practice of drinking chocolate had spread to France, Italy, and England (Presilla, 2009:24).

The Search for New Markets for Cacao Cultivation:

To meet demand, the Spanish relocated primary cacao cultivation from Mesoamerica back to Venezuela by the seventeenth century (Presilla, 2009:28). Here still, the challenge of insufficient labor to work the cacao plantations in Venezuela and South America persisted. As a result, slave labor from Africa was imported to keep cacao cultivation profitable in the colonies.

To further increase the production of cacao, the Spanish brought cacao to its eastern colonies, including the Philippines, Java, Indonesia (Presilla, 2009:43).

Other European colonial powers desired to similarly profit from cacao cultivation in their colonies. In the New World, the Portuguese ruled over Bahia, or modern-day Brazil. The Portuguese took Lower Amazon cacao seeds from Bahia to West Africa in the nineteenth century (Presilla, 2009:43). Cacao cultivation continued to spread from Portuguese West Africa to modern-day Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast by 1905 (Presilla, 2009:43; Coe and Coe, 2013:197). The British spread cacao to modern-day Sri Lanka, and the Dutch spread cacao to Java and Sumatra. By the 20th century, Europeans brought cacao to the New Hebrides, New Guinea, and Samoa in Oceania (Coe and Coe, 2013:197).

The Rise of West African Cacao

Colonialism spread cacao seeds across the equator, but West Africa, in particular, became the largest producer of cacao because it is the primary region where Forastero cacao grows. Crucially, the Portuguese had brought Forastero cacao from Brazil to Sao Tome (Coe and Coe, 2013: 197). Although Brazil also grows Forastero cacao, cacao production declined in the 1950s following the devastation of cacao-producing regions by witches’ boom and black pod rot (Presilla, 2009:123). Modern-day chocolate corporations favor Forastero cacao because its disease-resistance makes it the more dependable, cost-effective cacao to source relative to the other two major breeds of cacao: Criollo and Trinitarto. As reflected in the 2012 cacao market, the business practices of modern-day chocolate corporations who source cacao from West Africa, where Forastero cacao thrives, reinforce the profit-driven cacao cultivation established during the colonial period: 80 percent of the world’s cacao is of the disease-resistant Forastero variety (Coe and Coe, 2013:197).


(© Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons, 2009)

Because Forastero cacao (green) is absent in non-West African regions–Criollo cacao (red) grows in Central America and Trinitario cacao (brown) grows in South and Southeast Asia, profit-driven chocolate corporations source less cacao from these regions.


Profit Above All: The Case of Cadbury

 In Great Britain, three firms dominated the cocoa and chocolate market: Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree (Satre, 2005:14). By 1900, nearly half of the cocoa beans purchased by Cadbury were from the Portuguese colony of Sao Tome (Satre, 2005:19) when it was brought to Cadbury’s attention that the cacao plantations in Sao Tome were being worked by Angolans against their will (Satre, 2005:7). Under the guise of state-supported contact-labor system that could be renewed every five years, around four thousand Angolans were being captured and shipped Sao Tome and Principe to work on the cacao plantation (Satre, 2005:2-7). Although Portugal formally abolished slavery in its colonies in 1879 (Satre, 2005:2), a new slave labor arose on the cacao plantations in the twentieth century.

Nearly a decade after first learning of the inhumane labor conditions on the islands passed before Cadbury would officially boycott cacao from Sao Tome and Principe in 1909 (Higgs, 2012:148). Notably, his decision was preceded by his acquisition of fourteen acres in the Gold Coast, or modern-day Ghana, to be used for a Cadbury factory (Higgs, 2012:148). Despite having sufficient evidence for the inhuman labor conditions years before, Cadbury waited to boycott cacao from Sao Tome until he secured an alternate source of cacao for his company.

Although American chocolate corporations immediately filled the void left by the British boycott of Sao Tomean cacao, cacao production in Sao Tome eventually fell. The island’s cacao-producing regions were affected by swollen shoot disease in 1918 (Higgs, 2012:160). Since, Sao Tome and Principe have been unable to compete with the Ivory Coast and Ghana, chocolate corporations’ primary suppliers of cacao (Higgs, 2012:164). Ultimately, the profit venture begun by European colonial and the Portuguese transportation of disease-resistant Forastero cacao to West Africa primed the West African coast’s economies to flourish through cacao cultivation.




Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99.


Cocoa and Chaos in Cote d’Ivoire


Image 1: A shelter for internally displaced persons during the Ivorian  civil war (Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)


Cocoa has been a major source of wealth as well as one of the major causes of chaos in Africa. The conflict over cocoa resources disrupted the larger political struggle; it created ethnic and socio-economic instability, which became the basis of civil war in countries like Cote d’Ivoire. In 1960, Cote d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) won its full independence from France and Félix Houphouët-Boigny became the first president of the independent country. The new Ivorian president welcomed immigrants and made Ivorian land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. In this decision lies the secret of the economic growth of Cote d’Ivoire and the causes of its downfall.

This essay will argue that literature has tended to focus more on the trade and market issues related to cocoa instead of focusing on dynamics that are largely relevant to the local African context, such as violent political conflicts caused by cocoa farming. Cocoa producing countries in Africa have suffered several outbreaks of conflict, especially in Cote d’Ivoire between 2002 and 2011 which resulted in the death of 3,000 people [1], yet the role played by these countries in the global chocolate industry is little known. Furthermore, numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. This essay will provide a deep investigation into violent political conflict caused by cocoa farming in African countries by looking at the example of Cote d’Ivoire. Historical complexity and the current state of conflict will be examined. Finally, this essay will conclude with recommendations for contemporary cocoa industry and regulatory organizations on how to tackle such conflict. 


Image 2: Culture du Manioc – Côte d’Ivoire (Public Domain)

History of Cocoa and Chaos in Cote d’Ivoire

It was late 19th century when Africa began producing cocoa on a significant scale. The first recorded large-scale production was in the 1880’s from Portuguese plantations on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe [2]. As noted by the 2004 Anti-Slavery report, these cocoa plantations run by French colonists became infamous for using slaves, despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875. Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to Sao Tome and Principe islands.The low oil and rubber prices in Cote d’Ivoire encouraged people to cultivate cocoa and the proper cultivation began by 1890’s [3].

The history of cocoa and related violence goes back to 1900’s with French authorities “corrupting local chiefs, evicting communities from forests in the south and forcibly displacing tens of thousands of people, mainly from the north and from Burkina Faso to work on the cocoa plantations”[4]as claimed by the Global Witness report. The report also claims that small farmers protested against the higher cocoa prices paid to the French plantation owners. During this period of time, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a cocoa farmer himself formed an agricultural union called Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA) in 1944 and was elected as Côte d’Ivoire’s representative to the French parliament. After spending two years in French parliament, Boigny was able to secure a law in 1946 ending forced labor in Cote d’Ivoire . The ban on forced labor happened at the same time as the cocoa prices were high on the world market. This resulted in large portion of population moving to the  forested area of Cote d’Ivoire to cultivate cocoa. Due to his extreme popularity, Boigny was elected as first president of independent Cote d’Ivoire in 1960.

Under the administration of President Boigny, hundreds of thousands of immigrants came in search of land to cultivate cocoa. As Orla Ryan recalls in her book, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, some came from Boigny’s own ethnic group, the Baoule. A large portion of farmers came from Northern Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali. For years, the indigenous tribe, Bete, welcomed and worked alongside migrants and foreigners from Burkina Faso and Mali to cultivate cocoa. Many Ivorians moved to big cities to be part of the new urban economy. They sell or rented their lands to the foreigners who wanted to farm them and plant cocoa. With thousands of cocoa farmers, Cote d’Ivoire produced some 67 000 tons to 880 000 tons of cocoa from 1960 and 1989, which made it world’s largest producer of cocoa[5]. However, the economic growth of the country was also the beginning of the hostile  relationship between host and migrant populations.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 10.28.07 PM

Map 1: Cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire by Global Witness Report

The country accounted for around 40% of world cocoa production and cocoa became the economic resource of the country, representing on average 35% of the total value of Ivorians exports, worth around $1.4 billion. [6] To make country open to foreigners, President Boigny issues a statement saying, “The land belongs to he who cultivates it”[7]. This led to the ownership of big portion of land by immigrant population. However, the world price of cocoa was falling which created an atmosphere where foreigners were not welcome in Cote d’Ivoire anymore.

Adding to the problem, in 1933, after 33 years in power, President Boigny died and as did his economic policies. A long government policy to welcome foreigners and to give land to those who want to cultivate cocoa was changed when Laurent Gbagbo, from Bete tribe, was elected as the president. Confronted with a crumbling economy, Gbagbo used his presidency to reinvigorate the Ivorian citizenship rights, attempting to build a campaign by arousing Ivorian patriotism and nationalism. The newly elected president declared that the land given to the settlers under President Boigny cannot be claimed by them and should be returned to the native Ivorian owners.

As Mitchell writes in his paper, Rethinking the Migration-Conflict Nexus: Insights from Côte d‟Ivoire and Ghanathis policy of Gbagbo was central to the conflict and was deeply embedded in the rise and fall of the country’s cocoa sector.Much of the cultivated land was allocated to the foreigners at the time, which made it almost impossible for them to leave their crops. These foreigners became the victims for the financial crisis encountered by the native Ivorians and came under extreme pressure to leave the country. In 1990, non- Ivorians lost their right to vote thus deprived of their right to claim any land.

The Chaos

In 1998, law was passed declaring that only people of Ivorians nationality could own rural land. The law posed several problems for the thousands of immigrants who had cultivated and owned the cocoa crops for generations. The land purchased under President Boigny was rather informal which was often affirmed through handshakes or poorly written documents. Now in legal terms, such informal agreements meant nothing. Riots took place between the foreigners and natives in the west of the country, where most of cocoa was cultivated. The operation to seize land from the foreigners was launched, fueling violent tension between the communities. For the next decade, Cote d’Ivoire was split into two parts: the rebels controlled the north, while the government controlled the south. Where once the fight was over gold and diamonds, cocoa became a weapon of war.

According to a report by United Nations Human Rights Watch, between 1,500 and 2,500 Liberians fought for the government of Côte d’Ivoire, while almost 1,000 were thought to have fought among the ranks of Ivorian rebels. [8] Human right abuses were committed by conflict over land ownership. By the end of 1999, about 15,000 Burkinabe and northern Ivorians left the country in a bloody conflict between migrants and native people.


Image 3: Armed Ivorians next to a French Foreign Legion armored car, 2004 (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)

With the new nationalist concept, President Henri Konan Bédié, successor of Boigny, distinguished between “foreigners” and “true Ivorian”. The concept was incorporated into the new electoral code in 1994, which stated that candidates of the Presidency and for Deputy in the National Assembly must be Ivorians by birth, with Ivorian parentage, having neither renounced Ivorian citizenship nor taken the nationality of any other state. [9] This law was seen as a deliberate effort to prevent Bédié’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, from the presidential elections. Ouattara was Muslim and had Burkinabe origins.In excluding Ouattara from presidential elections, the northerners perceived this as a systematic discrimination. As a result of this, nearly two million Burkinabe (most of them cocoa producers) found themselves subjugated.

Economic stagnation caused by the falling prices of cocoa resulted in a coup in 1999 led by General Robert Guei who ousted President Bédié. When the presidential elections took place in 2010, after years of postponement, the country’s second civil war broke out, claiming the lives of more than 3,000 people.

Role of Cocoa

Cocoa accounts for a significant proportion of the Cote d’Ivoire government’s budget as well as the conflict. The Ivorian economy and especially the trade of cocoa lack transparency and accountability and involves significant amount of corruption. An estimated 10% of Ivorian cocoa production is now under the control of the rebels. These rebels charge indirect tax on the cocoa trade. The conflict in Cote d’Ivoire caused a sharp increase in the price of world cocoa. For example, in October 2002, after the coup attempt, the price of cocoa reached its highest level since the 1970’s and 1980’s at $2,367 per ton. [10]

According to a 2007 report by Global Witness and World Bank, some leading national cocoa institutions have contributed to the war by providing the government with “money, vehicle and weapons”[11]. As noted by the report, these contributions were made at the same time as the government forces were conducting worst human rights violations. Furthermore, government and rebel leaders in Cote d’Ivoire siphoned off millions of dollars from the cocoa industry to finance the 2002-03 civil war. According to the report, the Ivoirians government received more than $58 million from institutions and cocoa revenues, while the rebel forces pocketed about $30 million since 2004 in taxes and revenues[12]. The profits generated from the cocoa sector remain potential weapon for the conflict and little has been done to break the link between cocoa institutions and armed groups.


Image 4: Displaced Ivorians queue for food at a UNHCR distribution site in Liberia (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)


Following are few recommendations for cocoa industry and regulatory organizations such as United Nations:

Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire should perform extra considerations on their purchase to demonstrate that they are not providing money that is being used in the war effort, which results in human rights violations. These companies should make their purchase more transparent by publishing the information on how the cocoa was imported from such countries. Especially, if the cocoa was purchased from the areas controlled by government or rebels, how much direct and indirect taxes were paid. These cocoa-buying institutions should also publish information on the locations of their bank accounts (as most of them have off-shore companies) and should publish annual audit reports.

Organizations such as United Nations should be more serious about this conflict. United Nations should apply sanctions on individuals responsible for sending money to promote this conflict. United Nations should hold more Peacekeeping missions in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire . An oversight of the natural resources under United Nations should also be established.


Cote d’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960 under the leadership of President Boigny. During his administration, Boigny welcomed immigrants and made Ivoirians land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. Cote d’Ivoire witnessed a boom in its economy and became world’s largest cocoa producer. The production of cocoa relied on the immigrants who mostly came from Burkina Faso and Mali. To ensure labor rights, President Boigny extended their right to live and gave a decree ensuring ownership of the land they cultivated. As the cocoa prices fell around 1980s, the government replaced taxation with subsidies for the immigrants. The foreigners faced hostility from the natives. Between 2002 and 2011, Cote d’Ivoire suffered several conflicts mostly between the government and the cocoa farmers in the north. This led to the bitterly contested election in 2010, whose outcome led to the Second Ivorian Civil War. Around 3,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. For the past decade, both sides in the conflict-government and rebels-have benefitted from significant corruption through cocoa trade. Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire and such other countries should ensure that the money from cocoa trade is not fueling the conflict.

Works Cited

Primary Sources: 

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed, 2011. Print.
How Cocoa Fueled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.
“The Chocolate Industry.” Cocoa And Chocolate, 1765–1914 (n.d.): 65-92.The Cocoa Industry in West Africa. Anti-Slavery International. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/c/cocoa_report_2004.pdf&gt;.


Mitchell, Matthew I. Rethinking the Migration-Conflict Nexus: Insights from Côte D‟Ivoire and Ghana (n.d.): n. pag. Department of Political Studies Queen‟s University, 1 June 2010. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/Mitchell.pdf&gt;.

Other Sources: 

[1] “World Report 2012: Côte D’Ivoire.” Human Rights Watch. World Report, 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2012/country-chapters/cote-divoire&gt;.

[2] Clarence-Smith, W.G. & Ruf, F., “Cocoa pioneer fronts: The historical determinants”, Clarence-Smith, W.G. (ed.), Cocoa Pioneer Fronts Since 1800, the role of smallholders, planters and merchants, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996

[3] “The Chocolate Industry.” Cocoa And Chocolate, 1765–1914 (n.d.): 65-92.The Cocoa Industry in West Africa. Anti-Slavery International. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/c/cocoa_report_2004.pdf&gt;.

[4] How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.
[5] Crook, Richard. 1997. “Winning Coalitions and Ethno-Regional Politics: The Failure of the Opposition in the 1990 and 1995 Elections in Côte d‟Ivoire.” African Affairs, 96, 215-42.
[6] Ibid

[7] Crise Foncière, crise de la ruralité et relations entre autochtones et migrants sahéliens en Côte d’Ivoire forestière, Jean-Pierre Chauveau, May 2003


[8]Government-allied Liberians…requested …children for training”, in Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights Watch, August 2003


[9] Crook, Richard C. 2001. “Cocoa Booms, the Legalisation of Land Relations and Politics in Côte d‟Ivoire and Ghana: Explaining Farmers Responses.” IDS Bulletin, 32(1), 35-45.

[10] How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

Lamber, Blake. “Chocolate Now Fuels War in West Africa?” ProQuest. The Christian Science Monitor, 17 July 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/405552634?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo&gt;.
WallisC, William. “CorpWatch : IVORY COAST: Cocoa Exports ‘fund’ Ivory Coast Conflict.” CorpWatch : IVORY COAST: Cocoa Exports ‘fund’ Ivory Coast Conflict. CorpWatch, n.d. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14514&gt;.
Hailey, Paul. “From Côte D’Ivoire to Chocolate Bar – the Difficult Road for Sustainable Cocoa.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/cotedvoire-chocolate-difficult-road-sustainable-cocoa&gt;.


Image: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_Coast#/media/File:Internally_Displaced_Persons_Duekoue_2011_Cote_dIvoire.jpg

Image 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/socodevi/6837240434

Image 3: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_Coast#/media/File:059_French_Foreign_Legion.JPG

Image 4: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Ivorian_Civil_War#/media/File:Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Displaced_Ivorians_queue_for_food_at_a_UNHCR_distribution_site_in_Liberia.jpg


Cacao and Continued Unethical Labor Practices

Cacao based products, as a commodity for Europe and North America, has historically been linked to the use of non free labor, and even today, exploitation of labor sources for profit continues to be standard practice. Many companies and organizations have committed themselves to a more ethical approach in the supply chain of their raw products, but slavery continues to exist as profit margins are prioritized over ethics. A practice solidified during the Middle Passage and is likely to continue unless there is a drastic overhaul in the harvest, production, or consumption of chocolate.

Young children harvesting cacao in West Africa

A labor intensive crop, the cacao plant requires intense manual labor for harvest. The demand for labor to farm and harvest the labor intensive crop, cocoa, grew alongside the increase in demand for chocolate by European and North American consumers. Since its initial discovery by the Spaniards who exploited Native American labour until they died of diseases introduced from Europe, the cocoa trade has continued to increase yield and profit through non free labor. The Middle Passage and the slave trade, used by Spain, France, Portugal, England, Holland, and Denmark to profit handsomely from buying African slaves with goods, using them to work the fields of the New World to produce luxury goods to sell in Europe and North America [1]. The use of slave labor in the expansion of cocoa production, as well as other goods like sugar, rum, cotton, and tobacco, helped fuel the popularization of cocoa as it became more accessible to all, not just the elite, in the 19th century [2].

Despite bans of slave labor since the days of the Middle Passage, pockets of slavery continued to flourish while those freed were thrust into lives of poverty and disadvantage. Cadbury Chocolate, a successful Quaker chocolate maker who gained prominence in the 1860s in England, learned of the use of slave labor on cacao plantations in Sao Tome, and took nearly 10 years to take measurable action against the unethical sourcing of their raw materials [3]. Today, these issues continue to persist and much attention has been paid, recently, to West Africa, where child labor and trafficking in connection to cacao farming is commonly practiced to supply labor as cacao prices for farmers drops. The Ivory Coast and Ghana are two countries where this is most prevalent, and the Ivory Coast alone supplies nearly 40% of the world’s forastero cacao [4]. In the wake of an expose by BBC in 2000, United States congress attempted to introduce legislation to create a “no child labor” certification that was vehemently opposed by the chocolate industry [5]. A compromise was struck and major companies signed The Engel-Harkin Protocol, a pledge to investigate and eliminate slave practices that failed to produce any results [6]. CNN also produced a documentary in 2014 (see trailer below or watch full length documentary here) as part of their Freedom Project that that discussed the “Cocoa-nomics” behind the chocolate industry and its prevalence for nonfree labor [7]. In 2015, a group of consumers filed a suit against Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars for failing to advertise the use of slavery in the production of their products, duping consumers into supporting unethical practices [8].

These events, while they point out failures in the system, also suggest methods in which the use of unfree labor can be eradicated long term. On the production side, better rates for raw products will provide better financial freedom to farmers to send their children to school and avoid the need to procure unfree labor. Rates have decreased as more middlemen take out portions of profit for extra processing and marketing campaigns. Better agricultural management techniques for increased yield could also decrease the profit gap as healthier, more robust trees will provide more security for farmers. On the consumer side, increased awareness and willingness to pay more for a more ethical product will decrease demand for cheap chocolates that are made possible by child labor and will also pressure producers to cater to a different market for chocolate. While there are many approaches, none have made significant headway as of yet, and it is difficult to tell if history will repeat itself and if pledges will be fulfilled or not. Many companies have shown their support in forms of either pledges or certification. Nestle has publicized (as seen below) their investments into research and development efforts aimed at more efficient farming practices to increase incomes for farmers as a long term approach to addressing this issue [9]. While these initiatives appear promising, they must be maintained long past the marketing efforts to assuage the consumer public and until viable solutions for unfree labor are cemented.  



1. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

2. ibid

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

4. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

5. ibid

6. Haglage, Abby. The Daily Beast. September 30, 2015. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/30/lawsuit-your-candy-bar-was-made-by-child-slaves.html.

7. “CNN Freedom Project: Cocoa-nomics – CNN Video.” CNN. March 2, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/videos/international/2014/03/02/cfp-cocoa-nomics-full.cnn.

8. Haglage, Abby. The Daily Beast. September 30, 2015. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/30/lawsuit-your-candy-bar-was-made-by-child-slaves.html.

9. “CNN Freedom Project: Cocoa-nomics – CNN Video.” CNN. March 2, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/videos/international/2014/03/02/cfp-cocoa-nomics-full.cnn.




“Freeing the [man] without freeing the land, is but half an abolition”: Illegal cacao farms in Cote d’Ivoire

The origins of cacao consumption can be traced back to Mesoamerica, within the earliest period of Mayan culture, 250-900 CE. Within some of the earliest found writings, articles, and books known as the Dreseden and Mayan Codicies, the glyphs for cacao were present throughout the texts (Martin, 2015). The Latin name for cacao—Theobroma—literally means, “food of the gods” and cacao was heavily involved in various rites around marriage, birth, death, and fertility. For example, within the Madrid Codex are images of the goddess of the moon and the god of rain exchanging cacao to maintain the fertility of the earth. With the arrival of Europeans to the ‘new world’ cacao and chocolate were introduced to a new audience in the 16th century. Although dismissed as a low-brow consumption, something only ‘good enough for pigs’ (Martin, 2015), interest and a taste for chocolate grew, which in turn created a new economic stream which impacted the history, culture, society, and economy of almost every developed nation of that period.

The increase in demand for cacao led to a need for increased labor on plantations. The Spanish led the usage of indigenous populations first through a broken encomienda system, where colonists were able to demand tributes and labor in exchange for their ‘protection’, then through a system of repartimiento – a form of tribute-labor system where indigenous members were to do low-paid or unpaid labor for a fixed period of time on Spanish-owned properties – both of which were failed policies. This led to the advent of chattel slavery where, between the years 1500-1900, approximately 10-15 million enslaved Africans were brought to cacao producing colonies (Martin, 2015).

triangular slave trade

The majority of enslaved Africans were taken to the Caribbean and South America (Brazil). Travel to these destinations was harsh, slaves were stacked into ships, without concern for health or welfare; approximately 40% of slaves died on the voyage. For those who survived onto the final destination – their life expectancy was 7-8 years (Martin, 2015). The economics of slavery were diverse – colonists had varied interests in sugar, tobacco, cotton, and cacao – and the need to supply labor for these initiatives fell on the shoulders of African slaves. However, it has been argued that this was not based on racism or prejudiced beliefs, but the ‘logistic availability of cheap labor. As shared in class, Eric Williams, a historian and the former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago wrote in his book Capitalism & Slavery (1944),

“ …white laborers in the colonies would tend to create rivalry with the mother country in manufacturing. Better black slaves on plantations than white servants in industry, which would encourage aspirations to independence. The supply moreover was becoming increasingly difficult, and the need of the plantations outstripped the English convictions. In addition, merchants were involved in many vexatious and costly proceedings arising from people signifying their willingness to emigrate, accepting food and clothes in advance, and then sueing for unlawful detention. On the plantations, escape was easy for the white servant; less easy for the Negro who, if freed, tended, in self-defence, to stay in his locality where he was well known and less likely to be apprehended as a vagrant or runaway slave. The servant expected land at the end of his contract; the Negro, in a strange environment, conspicuous by his color and feature, and ignorant of the white man’s language and ways, could be kept permanently divorced from the land. Racial differences made it easier to justify and rationalize Negro slavery. Finally, and this was the decisive factor, the Negro slave was cheaper. The money which procured a white man’s services for ten years could buy a Negro for life. Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior.”

Perhaps this was written to share a neutral and unbiased perspective, as Williams was a Black man raised in the colonial era. However to read this rationalization, can lead one to believe that there was a willful blindness to the inherent biases against Africans, which were based on their race. Williams ignores the forced box that Africans were placed into once on plantations (their skin tone makes them easily identified as ‘other’) and ignores the prejudicial mindset of other colonists: If they saw a black slave, then he must have escaped; whereas a white slave/servant would be more difficult to identify on the presumption that all white men are inherently free. He does not acknowledge the systems in place that forced slaves to have few options towards personal or professional growth; as language and cultural educations were purposefully denied. Finally, he overlooks the basic human rights denied to African slaves because they were dehumanized and referred to as ‘goods and property’. Yet, this mindset prevailed among colonial plantation owners, seeped into societal views leading to periods of civil war and political unrest, and unfortunately; still persists over seventy (70) years later. Those enslaved may have changed – women, children – but the ‘rationalization’ remains: they are cheap labor, easily controlled, with nowhere to go. Though slavery has been banned for centuries (or decades depending on geographic location), it is still practiced in several industries, cacao among them.

Côte d’Ivoire, historically, has been reliant on exports. In the latter half of the 19th century, Europeans owned cacao plantations. After the World War I, ownership and growth shifted to African nationals. Cacao growth rapidly expanded through 1939 when production was once again halted with the advent of World War II. After this conflict, cacao production resumed, along with an emphasis on coffee. It was not until the ‘cocoa boom’ in the 1970s, where several government programs were created to support and encourage cacao growth, did it become the leading good of Côte d’Ivoire that it is today. (Gbetibouo and Delgado, pp. 121-123). Today, Côte d’Ivoire produces over 40% of the cacao consumed in the world. As shown in the chart below, the country’s lead in production is increasing year-on-year with cocoa bean production in the country expected: in 2013-14 they produced an estimated 1.730 thousand tonnes for, an increase from the 1.449 thousand tonnes recorded in the previous year.

cocoa productin and consumption mapcacao production chart

Though reports share that this year (2015) cacao farms are ahead of schedule in growth and output compared to last year, this is not universal across the country. April to September is considered the mid-crop period for farmers; during June and July, most plantations begin preparing the land for the next, upcoming crop to start in October. However several plantations are behind schedule this year; due to issues with drought, fungus, and an overall, low growing season impacting their land. Further, due to the lack of product, they are also short on cash needed to buy additional labor, pesticides, treatments, and fertilizers, to prepare for the upcoming season (Zawya Reuters, 2015).

Further, issues of investment revenue, farming interest, and access to land have all contributed to questions around the continued sustainability of long-term cacao production in Côte d’Ivoire. How the country and government choose to overcome these issues is still a piece in ‘progress’, but as various rights organizations continue to call for greater responsibility – of chocolate producing companies and of governments – the status of cacao farmers may change. In the interim, supplemental forms of cacao production exist, which have greater impacts on the land and surrounding wildlife.

A recent article shared a discovery of ‘rogue’ cacao plantations in Côte d’Ivoire. They are found within, what are supposed to be protected areas (PAs) of national forests, parks, and reserves. However, interviews with farmers highlight that they have existed in these areas for years, and though they provide a modest contribution to cacao output – the estimated annual yield of cacao from farms within these protected areas is 195,600 tons – the greatest area for concern, is the impact that they are having on the ecosystem, specifically the region’s unique space as a home for a variety of primates. A group of researchers specifically studied the impact of illegal cacao farms on the regions biodiversity.

Study protected areas

“Côte d’Ivoire comprises part of West Africa’s Guinean Forest Region, an ecosystem of great biological richness, species diversity, and endemism. The region is a World Biodiversity Hotspot, hosting over 2,250 endemic plant and 270 vertebrate species. Côte d’Ivoire is home to twenty-two primate [classifications], including 18 [narrow-nosed] species, and ranks second among West African countries in terms of primate diversity” (Bitty, p. 96). The research team spent three years collecting and recording data from twenty-three (23) protected areas (PA) – eighteen (18) forest reserves and five (5) national parks – within Côte d’Ivoire, found in the central and southern forest zone of the country. The team focused on how many different primate classifications were living in each region, how many human inhabitants were in each region, and the levels of degradation of the land and surrounding flora and other fauna due to cacao farming. Included in the assessment of degradation was secondary forests of any age, villages, cultivated fields, roads, pathways, etc. (Bitty, pp. 98-99). Their final assessment:

1) Primate encounters:

  • Within the twenty-three (23) protected areas: five had lost half of their primate species and thirteen (57%) had lost their entire primate population.
  • Each of the twenty three (23) protected areas is characterized, by (at least) one primate local extinction, but most are missing many more primate classifications.
  • Of twelve (12) anthropoid primate species expected within the survey areas, eleven were encountered in at least one protected area.
  • In PAs that had primates, (at least) the same three classifications were always encountered.
  • Two specific species were not encountered in any park or reserve surveyed leading the researchers to the possibility that they are extinct in the wild.
  • Researchers were able to make a direct relationship between the presence of cacao farms and absence of primates within protected areas.

2) Human ‘footprint’:

  • 15 of the protected areas had settlements with an average population of 4,400. Some of the largest settlements had populations over 10,000.
  • Based on interviews of farmers within these PAs, most residents had settled there within the last twelve years (12), which corresponded to a period of political & military unrest in Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Poaching was an additional concern within the PAs – primates are either killed or kept in captivity.

3) Economic degradation:

  • Using a mathematical quotient to define levels of degradation, the researchers found that the levels within sixteen (16) forest reserves exceeded 65%.
  • The majority of forest degradation was a result of cacao farming.
    • Cacao farms were found within 20 protected areas
    • Within the protected areas, between 10% to 100% of the land was converted for cacao farming
    • Cacao makes up 93% of illegally grown agricultural products in PAs (The other crops encountered were subsistence crops – bananas, yams, maize, rice – and miscellaneous vegetables associated with young cacao trees)
    • Approximately 74% (1250 mi2) of the total area of PAs surveyed had been turned into cacao plantations. This is equivalent (thought slightly larger) to the land area of Rhode Island (1045 mi2)
  • Primates habitats and food sources are especially endangered due heavy reliance on full-sun farming technique – removal of all trees – in cacao production. (Bitty, pp. 99-101)

illegal cacao farms

The impact that such illegal farming has on the environment is not new, however with recent trends in chocolate production and a greater, general awareness by the public of ‘fair’ products and the ‘impact’ their goods have, concerns around the razing of forests and loss of habitats are gaining prominence.

Returning to the particular case of Cote d’Ivoire, and the high rate at which this is occurring begs the question: why is this happening? According to the Bitty research group, it goes back to the country’s history. A vast population increase in the last fifty (50) years is a major cause of the expansion into protected areas for settlement, farming, and/or hunting. Part of this growth has occurred due to natural population increases (births), however a larger portion is due to a ‘large influx of migrants’ (Bitty, p. 102) due to the peace and economic prosperity that Côte d’Ivoire experienced between the late 1950s and the early 1990s. The 1970s coco boom started in the southeastern part of Côte d’Ivoire and gradually shifted to the central west and southwestern parts of the country as need to access of land and stronger yields became greater. As previously shared, this expansion was greatly promoted by President Felix Houphouët-Boigny (in office 1960-1993) as the country’s revenue greatly benefited from the taxes on commodity exports, of which cacao provided its greatest profit. As part of the investment in cacao production President Houphouët-Boigny’s government encouraged a process to allow ‘rental’ of land for cacao growing. The government unabashedly allowed migrant and foreign laborers to move into the nation’s forests. Further, in exchange for work, laborers were also allowed to plant their own crops and to sell a portion of the cacao they helped to produce – this created a wasteful cycle in which new labor could only be made available from further migration into the forests and clearing of land. This cycle continued until the government belatedly realized that the forest was a finite resource and began to set aside regions as protected areas (Woods, pp. 645-646).

cacao in hands

However, the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, plunged the country into a tumultuous period (~1993-2011) of political, social, and economic unrest. This included a civil war which caused hundreds of thousands to move into central and southern Côte d’Ivoire from other portions of the country and from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. This southward shift was heightened following the contested presidential election of 2010, with many migrants fleeing into neighboring countries or taking up residence adjacent to or within forest reserves and national parks (Cross, p. 44), continuing the deforestation of the land that occurred from the 1960’s-80s. Because of this, Côte d’Ivoire has the highest deforestation rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated loss of 1023mi2 (again, equivalent to the state of Rhode Island) per year (Fairhead and Leach p. 22).

Bitty concludes, “Given the government’s concerns with national security, safeguarding habitat and wildlife inside parks and forest reserves was likely not a high priority; and thousands of migrant’s readily occupied protected areas. Most conservation staff charged with monitoring and protecting fled their parks/reserves and south-moving migrants encountered little – if any – resistance. The result was the rapid establishment of permanent human settlements, an increase in cocoa farming, and an escalation of hunting within the country’s protected areas” (p. 102).

In recent years, the government of Cote d’Ivoire has stabilized and taken steps to remove these ‘illegal residents’ especially as regulations around illegal farming are strengthening.

However, the environmental impacts of cacao farming are still a cause for concern and have not become a part of the government’s focus. It has however gained the attention of various environmental rights groups, researchers, and even chocolate companies. Endangered Species Chocolate is an interesting company who connects consumer advocacy with every purchase of their chocolate. To consumers, they share that “choosing our chocolate is one way you can honor farmers and support sustainable farming practices. We pay a social premium for our ingredients to ensure that farmers are supported and species are protected.” (Endangered Species, 2015). A partner who receives 10% of the proceeds is the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which focuses on conservation and extinction avoidance of Africa’s unique species. Though there presence does not currently extend into Côte d’Ivoire, this could change in the future. Further, organizations like the AWF and conscious cacao companies like Endangered Species Chocolate could begin the dialogue on how cacao production and protection of ecosystems could be harmonious.

As for how the biodiversity of the region can be protected in conjunction with the existence of the cacao farms, the importance of these critical areas in ensuring the biodiversity of Côte d’Ivoire has been emphasized, however it the threat of the continual agricultural encroachment of the cacao farms is recognized. And although the government has shifted its focus to removing the farms, the government currently does not have the resources needed to completely halt cacao production and poaching within all of its protected areas (PAs), which is a concern for continual extinction of unique floral and fauna (especially primates) in the future (Bitty, p. 104). Specifically regarding the primates, Bitty et. al shared that the absence of primates in various protected areas directly correlates to the existence of cacao farms and the technique of full sun cacao farming. They continued:

“In contrast, shaded cocoa agroforestry, which does not involve the total removal of trees, has been shown to provide comparable revenues for farmers while preserving elements of habitat critical for primate populations. Several recent studies have tabulated those tree species known to thrive in West and Central African cocoa farms where shaded agroforestry is practiced, and cocoa farmers recently interviewed in Cote d’Ivoire expressed their desire to retain some tree diversity on their farms, noting that certain trees are compatible with cocoa because they help promote soil moisture retention and improve soil fertility.

Studies in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in Africa have demonstrated that cocoa production and biodiversity are not mutually exclusive entities. Going forward, it will be essential to promote policies that do not involve complete deforestation, and we are encouraged by the work of Schroth and Harvey who note, “traditional cocoa agroforests with diverse and structurally complex shade canopies are among the agricultural land uses that are most likely to conserve a significant portion of the original forest biodiversity (2007:2238).” Our suggestion of shade-cocoa farming applies to remaining intact forest outside protected areas, and we emphasize that we are not advocating new agriculture – shaded or otherwise – inside protected areas. For degraded PAs, forest regeneration focusing on native tree species should be encouraged” (Bitty, pp. 104-105).

The issues of illegal farms in Cote d’Ivoire are greater than simply changing the method by which farming occurs, but this is a suggested solution that can be implemented as the government, ecologists, cacao buyers, farmers, etc. work to bring about a solution that is beneficial for all. However history – historical actions, mindsets, policies – as has been shown here, can have a great impact on the present – livelihood, rights, and process – of a country’s inhabitants. Hopefully, Cote d’Ivoire will recognize the opportunity it has to change the way in which the producers of its greatest export are treated; that farmers receive greater financial support and rights to the land; but also recognizes the importance of its ecosystem and how to harmoniously merge cacao production with environmental protection.


Bavier, Joe and Hudson, Dale. “Cash-strapped Ivorian farmers struggle to ready next cocoa crop”. Reuters (Zawya). 13 May 2015. Web. Accessed online on 12 May 2015 <http://www.zawya.com/story/Cashstrapped_Ivorian_farmers_struggle_to_ready_next_cocoa_crop-TR20150513nL5N0Y336IX2/&gt;

Bitty, A. E., Gonedele, S. B., Koffi Bene, J. C., Kouass, P. Q.i and McGraw, W. S. 2015. Cacao farming and primate extirpation inside Cote d’Ivoire’s protected areas. Tropical Conservation Science Vol.8 (1): 95-113. Web. 11 May 2015. <http://tropicalconservationscience.mongabay.com/content/v8/tcs_v8i1_95-113_Bitty.pdf&gt;

Cross, Hannah. Migrants, Borders and Global Capitalism: West African Labour Mobility and EU Borders. New York. Routledge. 2013. Print.

Endangered Species Chocolate. Main website. N.D. Web. 13 May 2015 <http://www.chocolatebar.com/&gt;

Fairhead, James and Leach, Melissa. Reframing Deforestation: Global Analyses and Local Realities: Studies in West Africa. New York. Routledge. 1998. Print.

Gbetibouo, Mathurin and Delgado, Christopher L. 1984. Lessons and Constraints of Export Crop-Led Growth: Cocoa in Ivory Coast. The Political Economy of Ivory Coast. Ed. I. William Zartman, et al. New York. Praeger. Web. 10 May 2015 <http://krishikosh.egranth.ac.in/bitstream/1/2054816/1/MPKV-1257.pdf&gt;

“Ivory Coast patchy rains mainly good for cocoa mid-crop”. Reuters (Africa). 11 May 2015. Web. Accessed online on 12 May 2015 <http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFKBN0NW1FY20150511?sp=true&gt;

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. 2015. Lecture slides: various. Accessed online on 11 May 2015 <https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bZnNSUEVBekRocW8&usp=sharing&gt;

Williams, Eric. Capitalism & Slavery. University of North Carolina Press. 1944. Print. Accessed online: 10 May 2015 <http://www.njstatelib.org/research_library/new_jersey_resources/digital_collection/capitalism_and_slavery/&gt;

Woods, Dwayne. 2003. The tragedy of the cocoa pod: rent-seeking, land and ethnic conflict in Ivory Coast. Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 41 (4): 641-655. Web. 11 May 2015 < http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3876357?uid=2134&uid=2494055723&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3&uid=2494055703&uid=60&sid=21106804543803 >

Multimedia resources:

AFP News Agency. Ivory Coast evicts illegal workers from forests. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 July 2013. Web. 12 May 2015. < https://youtu.be/-nvJmrlEfAI&gt;

Cacao consumption and production map. Cocoa Barometer Consortium. Cocoa Barometer 2015. 6 March 2015. Web. 12 May 2015 <http://www.oxfamnovib.nl/Redactie/Downloads/Rapporten/Cocoa_Barometer_2015.pdf&gt;

Cacao in hands. Stock photo. N.D. Web. 13 May 2015 <https://www.google.com/search?q=cacao+in+hands&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=n8FTVbCcFdLlsASJtIH4DA&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=657#tbm=isch&q=cacao+hands&gt;

Cacao production chart. International Cocoa Organization. 27 February 2015. Web. 11 May 2015. <http://www.icco.org/about-us/international-cocoa-agreements/cat_view/30-related-documents/46-statistics-production.html&gt;

Endangered Species Chocolate. Our Promise: Endangered Species Chocolate. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 21 January 2014. Web. 13 May 2015 <https://youtu.be/chsse1OUk4w&gt;

Illegal cacao plants & beans (p. 100): Bitty, A. E., Gonedele, S. B., Koffi Bene, J. C., Kouass, P. Q.i and McGraw, W. S. 2015. Cacao farming and primate extirpation inside Cote d’Ivoire’s protected areas. Tropical Conservation Science Vol.8 (1): 95-113. Web. 11 May 2015. <http://tropicalconservationscience.mongabay.com/content/v8/tcs_v8i1_95-113_Bitty.pdf&gt;

Protected Areas – Primate Study (p. 99): Ibid.

Triangular Trade Route photo. Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. 2015. Lecture 6 – Slavery, abolition, and forced labor: slide 6. Accessed online on 11 May 2015 <https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bZnNSUEVBekRocW8&usp=sharing>