Belgian Chocolate

A World of Contradictions

The Truth About Chocolate Production

28 August 2015 by Christophe Morneau

cocoa tree pods

Cocoa Production

Cocoa is grown in tropical regions around the Equator. The main cocoa producing countries are: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador. Most is grown on small family farms: only 5% is from large plantations.

Growing cocoa is the livelihood for 40 to 50 million farmers worldwide. Their work is intensive, as the trees need constant care and attention, and they produce beans all year round. It takes a whole year’s crop to produce only half a kilo.

Cocoa beans are grown in pods. When they are ripe the farmers hack them off with machetes. The pods are then manually split open and up to 50 beans are removed from each. The beans are fermented by heating in trays covered with banana leaves, or just left in the sun. This takes 5 to 8 days. Then they must be dried, which takes about a week. Once dried, the beans can be shipped off to the manufacturers.

To the Global North

The farmers sell the sacks of beans to intermediaries, who export them to the Global North. First they reach the grinding companies, who remove the shells, roast the beans, and ground them into cocoa liquor. This liquor is used to produce chocolate, cocoa powder or cocoa butter.

Chocolate manufacturing is a huge business, and confectionary companies make high profits. Companies cut costs to compete with other companies by paying the cocoa farmers less. Most farmers now live on around 1.25 US dollars a day: about 6% of what the consumer pays for chocolate.

The Farmers

Prices in cocoa fluctuate, meaning the farmers’ income is affected. The farmer has no security regarding how much he/ she will be paid, because it depends on supply affected by disease, pests, extreme weather and political instability.

Low income leads to serious human rights violations. Low salaries, unacceptable living conditions and health care. Workers are exposed to pesticides, work with dangerous tools, and long working hours. They suffer from a lack of education, nutrition, sanitation, community management, ethnic and gender discrimination.

Impoverished cocoa farmers are often forced to use child labour to cut costs. There are about 2 million children working in cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. Child slavery is still existent, especially in the Ivory Coast, as children are purchased from neighbouring countries.


Due to low income, farmers cannot invest in their farms or plant new trees. Instead of replacing old or diseased trees, it is cheaper to use new farmland. This leads to the clearing of more rainforest, posing a threat to biodiversity. Lack of knowledge around this issue can mean that up to 40% of farmers’ income is lost because of bad maintenance. Farmers can also misuse chemicals, harming local water sources and contaminating soil.

Non Profit Organisations

Organisations such as the World Cocoa Foundation are helping with sustainability, supporting communities, education and research. WCF provides training to manage pests, diversify crops for better income and environmental management. For more information:

Fairtrade has a vision to make cocoa farming more sustainable so that farmers can support themselves, their families, and their workers. In 2012 122 small farmer organisations in 19 countries held certificates to produce Fairtrade cocoa. There is a premium put on this chocolate (why it is more expense for the consumer), which is directly invested back into improvement programmes. You can help by consuming Fairtrade chocolate. For more information see:

International Cocoa Initiative promotes child protection in cocoa growing communities. The Rainforest Alliance promotes sustainable use of natural resources, increased productivity and protecting biodiversity.

The Chocolate Companies

The top 5 chocolate manufactures are: Mars, Mondelez, Grupo Bimbo, Nestle and Hersheys. Let’s take a look at one: Mondelez and see what they have to say. According to the website:

‘’Our signature program, Cocoa Life, aims to create empowered cocoa farmers…. Launched in 2012, Cocoa Life will invest $400 million by 2022 to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members in our six key cocoa growing origins: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.‘’ Source:

However, they do admit that to make a real difference they will need the co-operation of governments within these countries, other links in the chain of industry and other organisations to help them. Mondelez also promotes its affiliation with Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, and WCF, suggesting the company is doing something to help.

Demand for chocolate is growing and growing, so without these changes, it is possible that the chocolate industry will lose its raw product, if it does not act fast. This is something we should all be concerned about, for it will affect the lives of millions around the world: from the small holding farmer, to the factory worker at Mondelez.

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