Chocolate means many things to different people: it can be a special treat, a guilty pleasure, or a delicacy to be mulled and evaluated much like wine. But for many people around the globe, it’s also serious industry. By 2016, the global chocolate market will be worth $98.3 billion.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which, logically, grow on cacao trees. Historians believe that chocolate consumption originated in the Pre-Columbian societies of Central America at least five millennia ago. Today, however, the production and consumption of this sweet treat is a complex world trade network
Unsurprisingly, most of the top 10 cocoa-producing countries come from warm, wet climates similar to where the bean originated. However, nations across four continents make the top 10, and the largest contingent does not comes from the Americas, with four of the top five nations found in Africa.
So who’s driving the global choco-industrial complex? In other words, which nations harvest and produce the largest crops of cocoa beans to satisfy the Earth’s sweet tooth? According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, these are the top cocoa producers in the world:
When it comes to chocolate done ethically, the Dominican Republic has taken a global lead in two ways. One, the government works to ensure its cocoa production is done in an environmentally sustainable manner. Additionally, until 2009, the Dominican Republic led the world in “Fairtrade-certified” cocoa production, and it still remains a world leader in this front. Fairtrade products are those that have been vetted by global trade organizations to ensure that farmers receive adequate compensation for their crops.
The Dominican Republic has historically been known for two different types of cocoa: a buttery, cheaper product known as Sanchez and a drier, better-fermented bean called Hispaniola. Combined, the country produced a total of 68,021 tonnes of the beans in 2013.
In Peru, growing capacity for cocoa has been limited by fierce competition over agricultural land. Another, similarly spelled plant, coca, from which cocaine is produced, grows well in similar climates and fetches a much higher price, forcing cocoa farmers out of business.
In fact, in recent years, Peru has become the world’s largest producer of cocaine. Over 60,000 hectares of land are in use for coca, resulting in the production of about 340 tons of cocaine. In comparison, the cacao tree inhabits just 48,000 hectares of Peruvian land, with a total cocoa output of 71,175 tonnes of cocoa beans.
Chocolate giants Hershey and Ferrero recently invested heavily in facilities for cocoa production in Mexico, but despite deep investments, Mexican cocoa production has actually fallen about 50 percent since the early 2000s. In fact, Mexico has to import more cocoa than it exports.
One major reason for Mexico’s cocoa decline is disease. Frosty pod rot has devastated the Mexican cocoa crop in the past. There are signs of hope, however – new hybrid plants are proving resistant to the disease, and last year Mexico produced over 82,000 metric tons of cocoa beans, according to the FAO.
Ecuador’s cocoa industry is one of the world’s oldest: in the Ecuadorian Amazon, archaeologists recently discovered traces of cocoa in pottery more than 5,000 years old. This long history is honoured today, with the nation’s total output weighing in at 128,446 tonnes.
Ecuador’s production of cocoa cannot match the global cocoa superpowers in West Africa in terms of gross output, but many chocolate connoisseurs feel Ecuador is tops in terms of quality. While many multinational companies turn to Africa for the base of their processed chocolate treats, smaller artisan chocolatiers look to Ecuadorian cocoa to provide the complex tastes they crave.
The world definitely wants more cocoa than it can produce. Nowhere is this more evident than Brazil, a country whose cocoa production has dipped consistently in the last few years. In fact, Brazil has been a net importer of cocoa – meaning Brazilians eat more cocoa than they sell – since 1998.
And that’s not likely to change any time soon: the Brazilian government forecasts that Brazilian cocoa production will drop another 15.7% between now and 2024. Still, Brazil remains the largest cocoa producer in the Americas, harvesting 256,186 metric tons of cocoa beans in 2013.
From Chocolate’s home in South America, the list now travels across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa, where all but one of the world’s top five cocoa producing countries are located. In terms of total mass, West Africa produces more cocoa than any other world region.
Cameroon has historically been one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa, growing 275,000 metric tons in 2013. Despite this fact, the cocoa business in Cameroon is under threat. Poor management of the cocoa crop has led to a dire situation: many of Cameroon’s cocoa trees have aged past the age of prime production. Without newer trees or enough space to plant then, Cameroon’s cocoa farmers are looking to face an uphill battle.
Nigeria, on the other hand, planned to increase cocoa production from 367,000 to 421,300 tonnes in 2013-14. Rising global prices, demand, and the increased availability of cutting-edge agricultural technology have fueled significant growth in Nigeria’s cocoa industry.
These positive indicators are not to say Nigeria’s cocoa industry is devoid of trouble. Oxfam has identified a severe lack of gender equality on the cocoa farms in Nigeria. They say that women and men who perform the same roles in the cocoa-harvesting process are often paid unequally.
Indonesia grew almost no cocoa before the early 1980s, when production took off like a rocket. Now it is the world’s third leading producer of cocoa beans, growing 777,500 tonnes in 2013, according to the FAO.
One main concern for the Indonesian cocoa crop is the pod borer insect, which has damaged the industry’s growth recently. Until the early 2000s, Indonesia’s cocoa industry had been on a straight upward track, but it has since leveled out. Like Ghana and the Ivory Coast, most of Indonesia’s cocoa crop comes from smallholder farms, which the Overseas Development Institute claims is a much more efficient method than large corporate farms.
In Ghana, cocoa is king, with the production accounting for just under a sixth of the country’s GDP. Over three-quarters of the country’s farmers define themselves as smallholder farmers, meaning the cocoa farm is owned and maintained by farmers who live on the property. Despite the lack of corporate control—or maybe because of it elsewhere —high operational costs are taking their toll on the Ghanaian cocoa industry.
Some cocoa farmers from Ghana have taken to smuggling their cocoa to the Ivory Coast, where cocoa is selling for almost 50 percent more. With 835,466 tonnes grown in the West African nation, that’s a lot of smuggling to be done.
The Ivory Coast supplies 30 percent of the world’s total cocoa, leading the rest of the world by over half a million metric tons with a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. Companies like Nestle and Cadbury receive much of their cocoa from the Ivory Coast and Cocoa alone is responsible for almost two-thirds of the trade revenue coming into the nation.
Recently, serious concerns have been raised about cocoa production here. Child laborers, some of whom are subjected to 100-hour-long workweeks and physical abuse, have been discovered on many of the farms responsible for the nation’s gargantuan output. In addition to the harsh working conditions, child laborers on the Ivory Coast often do not receive any education whatsoever.
An Ivory Coast cocoa farmer made headlines last year when he was featured trying a chocolate bar in a video which went viral. Despite farming cocoa for his entire life, he had never tasted chocolate.
Which Country Produces the Most Chocolate?
In terms of total mass, West Africa produces more cocoa than any other world region. The Ivory Coast supplies 30 percent of the world's total cocoa. Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other major producers.
Top Cocoa Producing Countries In The World
|12||Papua New Guinea||41,200|
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