Cocoa is grown in tropical regions around the Equator. The main cocoa producing countries are: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador. Most is grown on small family farms: only 5% is from large plantations.
Growing cocoa is the livelihood for 40 to 50 million farmers worldwide. Their work is intensive, as the trees need constant care and attention, and they produce beans all year round. It takes a whole year’s crop to produce only half a kilo.
Cocoa beans are grown in pods. When they are ripe the farmers hack them off with machetes. The pods are then manually split open and up to 50 beans are removed from each. The beans are fermented by heating in trays covered with banana leaves, or just left in the sun. This takes 5 to 8 days. Then they must be dried, which takes about a week. Once dried, the beans can be shipped off to the manufacturers.
To the Global North
The farmers sell the sacks of beans to intermediaries, who export them to the Global North. First they reach the grinding companies, who remove the shells, roast the beans, and ground them into cocoa liquor. This liquor is used to produce chocolate, cocoa powder or cocoa butter.
Chocolate manufacturing is a huge business, and confectionary companies make high profits. Companies cut costs to compete with other companies by paying the cocoa farmers less. Most farmers now live on around 1.25 US dollars a day: about 6% of what the consumer pays for chocolate.