Chocolate is the “food of the gods,” a sweet treat for many across the world, and a booming industry worth an estimated $110 billion a year. But as we unwrap a favorite bar or tuck into a truffle, how many of us take the time to think about where it came from, and who helped in its transformation from the humble cocoa bean?
Most of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, with more than a third coming from the Ivory Coast alone. Cocoa is grown mainly on small, family-owned plantations by farmers living in poverty.
By contrast, most of the world’s chocolate is consumed in the wealthy regions of Europe and North America.
Chocolate may be big business, but its key ingredient, cocoa, is cultivated by some of the poorest people on the planet. While demand for cocoa is growing to the point that some experts warn we may run out of affordable supplies within 20 years, the farmers who grow it earn a tiny proportion of the price we pay at the grocery store – and their share has dropped sharply over the past 35 years.
Cocoa beans grow in pods, directly from the trunk of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao, or “food of the gods.”) One tree produces between 20 and 30 pods a year, each containing 20 to 50 almond-sized cocoa beans. A year’s harvest from one tree – processed into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter or cocoa powder — is enough to make up to 500g of chocolate.