The Bitter Side of Chocolate

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The Bitter Side of Chocolate

July 7th was World Chocolate Day, which got us at ARDA thinking about cocoa, the raw material for chocolate. The majority of the world’s cocoa – thirty percent of it, to be exact – is produced by Ivory Coast, which produces about 1.5 million metric tonnes of cocoa annually.

Chocolate is made from cocoa seeds, also known as cocoa beans. These beans grow on cacao trees, and can only be grown in warm, wet climates, similar to the central American tropics where they were first discovered.

With the ever-growing demand for chocolate and cocoa-related products, it is no wonder that the cocoa industry is a complex world-trade network spanning four continents. However, despite the monstrous popularity of its products, the cocoa market faces many problems that, if not addressed urgently, could lead to the world facing a serious cocoa shortage as demand outgrows supply. In places like Ivory Coast and Ghana – the world’s number one and two cocoa producers – the effects of global warming are already beginning to affect the market, as increased temperatures and hotter weather dries out the soil, making it unpalatable for cocoa growth.

In the frantic search for ways to increase cocoa supply and production, it is also very important to keep in mind the ecological effects of cocoa farming. The cocoa-producing giant of Ivory Coast already faces a problem with deforestation due to the production of cocoa. Since the turn of the century, large swaths of Ivory Coast’s forests, that are home to some endangered species of chimpanzees, have been cut down to provide land for cocoa plantations. So far the country has set up laws and ethical certification schemes, in addition to protection most of its forestland, in order to curb the deforestation.

At present, cocoa production worldwide is still very small scale, a vast majority of the world’s cocoa coming from family farms. These farms are plagued with a variety of issues such as a limited access to resources, especially to treat against crop diseases and pests. These small farms also face social issues such as illiteracy, which leaves them ill-equipped to trade on the global market and human disease such as HIV/AIDS which impacts the already limited number of cocoa farmers in these developing nations.

Large companies and organizations have begun lending aid in the form of research and grants in order to create a greener, ethical and more sustainable cocoa industry. Companies like Ferrero, Nestle, Lindt, Mondelez, Ritter Sport, Olam, and Cargill are some of the major corporations that are signed on the deforestation agreement in Ivory Coast. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development and others, the WCF ECHOES Program provides literacy and vocational training programs, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency has agreed to back Ivory Coast’s plans to begin generating power from cocoa by-products and shells by 2020. These advancements give hope for a greener, ethical and more sustainable cocoa market.


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