Where does cocoa come from?
Cocoa is the essential ingredient for our chocolate.
It originates from the seeds (cocoa beans) of the cocoa fruits (cocoa pods), which grow on cocoa trees. The production of cocoa begins in the tropical regions around the Equator where the hot and humid climate is well suited to growing cocoa trees. 70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa: together they cultivate more than half of the world´s cocoa. These two are followed by other cocoa-producing countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil and Ecuador.
Worldwide, 90% of cocoa is grown on small family farms of 1-5 hectares or less, while just 5% comes from large plantations of 40 hectares or more. Cocoa production provides livelihoods for between 40 and 50 million farmers, rural workers and their families in the Global South. In some countries of West Africa such as Ivory Coast and Ghana, up to 90% of the farmers rely on cocoa for their primary income.
From trees to sacks
Growing cocoa is labour intensive and manual work, requiring close and continuous attention, to care for and harvest the beans. The cocoa tree flowers and bears fruit all year round. It produces large cocoa pods which need to be cut from trees by machetes or sticks. Each cocoa pod contains around 20-30 seeds sitting in a sweet white pulp – these are the actual cocoa beans. It takes a whole year’s crop from one tree to make half a kilo of cocoa. As pods do not ripen at the same time, the trees need to be monitored continuously. Cocoa is also a very delicate crop, easily affected by changes in weather and susceptible to diseases and pests. After ripe pods are harvested, they need to be cut open with machetes and the beans are taken out. The cocoa beans then need to be fermented, dried, cleaned and packed. When the beans are packed into cocoa sacks, the farmers are ready to sell the product to intermediaries.
From sacks to butter
Intermediaries buy the sacks of unprocessed beans and sell them to exporters. After beans reach grinding companies in the Global North, cocoa still needs to be processed. Beans are crushed and the shells removed, roasted, and finally ground. The result – cocoa liquor – is used to manufacture chocolate, or is further processed for cocoa butter and cocoa powder.