The cocoa bean is the seed of the cacao tree, a tropical plant that is indigenous to the equatorial regions of the Americas but is now grown in many countries with a warm, tropical climate. The bean can be used to help make things like garden fertilizer and animal feed, but it is better known for being the key ingredient in something that people around the world enjoy every day: chocolate.
Today, the chocolate industry is valued at more than $100 billion. Therefore, the cultivation of the cocoa bean is of the utmost importance to chocolate producers. Unfortunately, that cultivation is also the main source of criticism for the chocolate industry, as millions of children are employed as laborers in harvesting cocoa beans. Here are the top five cocoa-producing countries in the world:
1. Cote d'Ivoire
Cote d’Ivoire is the biggest producer of cocoa beans in the world, producing over 2 million tons. In fact, Ivoirians count on cocoa exports for 40% of their export revenue, which means that their national economy is highly dependent on the price of cocoa. The country is located in the tropical region of West Africa, and has a population of more than 26 million, of which an estimated six million work in cocoa production. The average cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast makes a paltry 97 cents per day, which is well below the World Bank poverty line of $1.90 per day.
Cote d’Ivoire’s neighbor to the east, the Republic of Ghana, is the second biggest exporter of cocoa. The country's cocoa production accounts for 30% of its export revenue. About 800,000 Ghanaian farmers are directly involved in the cultivation of cocoa. As in Cote d’Ivoire, child labor is commonplace in the production of cocoa. An additional concern is the depletion of Ghana’s forests. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 100 thousand hectares of forest were cleared for cocoa cultivation.
Indonesia is the only one of the top five cocoa-producing countries that is not located in Africa, but in Southeast Asia. Cocoa cultivation in Indonesia is a relatively new industry. In fact, the country barely produced any cocoa until the 1980s. By 2009, cocoa production in the country peaked at 849,875 tons. In the 2010s, however, production declined significantly, falling to just 400,000 tons in 2015. Producers blame government policies, aging cocoa plants, and the high level of cadmium content present in Indonesian cocoa.
Nigeria, located just two countries over to the east of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, is the world’s fourth-biggest cocoa-producing nation. Though the country produces over 300,000 tons of cocoa, Nigerians have yet to take full advantage of the cash crop for several reasons. Firstly, many of the cacao trees in Nigeria are old, as are the people who cultivate them. Secondly, the farming methods many of the country’s farmers use are obsolete. Finally, chemicals are used in the cultivation of cocoa beans in an inappropriate manner. Nigerians have also failed to diversify the use of their cocoa to make products other than chocolate, such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa liquor. In fact, it is estimated that if trends in Nigeria’s cocoa production don’t change, the cultivation of the crop in the country will cease within twenty years.
The world’s fifth-largest cocoa producer is Nigeria’s neighbor to the east, Cameroon. Today, 37% of Cameroon’s cultivated soil is dedicated to cocoa farming. Cultivating cocoa is the main source of income for the overwhelming majority of the country’s rural population. The sustainability of cocoa cultivation in the country is in doubt, however, as the vast majority of cocoa farms in the country are old and not properly maintained.
Cocoa Production's Effects
As long as people continue to consume chocolate and various other products made from cocoa, the cultivation of the cash crop will continue. What many argue should not continue, however, is the use of child and forced labor on cocoa farms. An increasing number of people are speaking out against the use of unfair labor practices in the production of cocoa. To counter child labor, human rights organizations are encouraging consumers to buy fair trade chocolate from brands that do not use cocoa produced by child and slave laborers, and that way reducing the demand. Nevertheless, it is estimated that more than two million children in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana alone are involved in cocoa farming.