There's already a global cocoa shortage, but prices haven't risen enough to make it worthwhile for cocoa farmers. They're switching to rubber instead.
If we don’t start paying a fair price to cocoa farmers, we might lose out on chocolate. A growing number of cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast are uprooting their cocoa trees and planting rubber instead. This is drastic step for many smallholder farmers who have been cultivating cocoa all their lives.
Fairtrade International reports that West Africa produces 67 percent of the world’s cocoa, with 43 percent coming from Ivory Coast alone. Ninety percent of all cocoa is grown on family-owned farms whose plots are 12 acres or less. These farms produce an average of 350 pounds of cocoa per acre per yearly harvest, which generates an average annual income of US $30-100 per family member. That’s about the cost of a box of high-end chocolates.
There has been a global cocoa shortage for the past two years. Currently 3.7 million metric tons of cocoa are produced annually, but consumption is approaching at least 3.8 million tons. According to Bloomberg, “The deficit is expected to grow ninefold to 1 million metric tons by 2020.”
The problem is that prices have not risen enough to give farmers an incentive to continue producing cocoa. Rubber is a more lucrative crop because it is harvested monthly, generating a regular income, and the trees require less maintenance than cocoa. Damien Thouvenel, a French cocoa trader, explains:
“Cocoa prices have been low for too long and today the farmer in Ivory Coast, Ghana, or Indonesia is facing other alternatives like palm oil or rubber. Prices will have to trade higher to stimulate production.”
A number of large chocolate and cocoa companies, including Hershey, Nestlé, and Mars, have joined with the Ivorian government to figure out how “to accelerate actions to make cocoa farming in the country sustainable.” This includes a push to modernize cocoa cultivation, since it mostly uses traditional methods. Farmers are more likely to have a machete and hand tools than a plow. The crop is notoriously difficult to grow, susceptible to disease, rot, and drought, and many farmers don’t have access to good seeds, fertilizers, and fungicides.
Traders such as Thouvenel say that if cocoa farmers learned how to use pesticides more effectively, their production could increase. A small farm using traditional methods averages 400 kilograms (882 pounds) of cocoa per hectare, whereas a farm that’s well managed with fertilizers and pesticides can produce 1.5 tons per hectare. The Ghanaian and Ivorian governments could also provide more subsidies for cocoa farmers, like the ones given to soybeans, wheat, corn, and palm oil.
While improving agricultural efficiency is great, there needs to be more discussion about the ethical side of cocoa production. Consumers need to pay a fair price for chocolate and refuse to buy cheap ‘blood’ chocolate, so that farmers can receive a living wage and have sufficient income to invest in better equipment, seeds, and fertilizers, with potential for expansion.
Fair trade chocolate benefits producers, who are usually forced to negotiate with intermediaries who pay only a fraction of what the crop is worth; it demands that farmers meet certain environmental standards for pesticide use; and it delivers a higher quality product to consumers. It cares about sustainability and ensuring that we continue to have delicious chocolate to enjoy, rather than churning out the greatest volume of chocolate for the global market.
The tradeoff is that chocolate lovers have to be willing to pay more for their favourite treat, which shouldn’t be hard after reading this quote from Bitter Chocolate by Carol Off:
“When one former child slave was asked what he’d say to chocolate-eating Westerners, he answered, ‘When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.’”
Do the West African cocoa farmers a favour and choose fair trade next time (and every time) you’re out shopping. There’s nothing like a small $6 bag of chocolate chips to make you realize how truly special it is.