Beware, chocolate lovers! Irregular rainfall has harmed part of Africa’s cocoa crop. But weather may be the smallest worry of the chocolate industry.
Cocoa is the raw ingredient used to make chocolate. Trees that produce healthy cocoa pods require rain at the right time. But this year, the rains of West Africa have been sporadic.
For more than 40 years, Jean Baptiste Saleyo has farmed cocoa on several acres of his family’s land. His country—Ivory Coast in West Africa—produces almost half the world’s cocoa supply.
This year, the all-important rains didn’t come on time. Saleyo fears for his crop. For cocoa trees to fruit well, rains need to fall at the right phase of the growing cycle. Coming at the wrong times can cause crop disease to spread.
“When it should have rained, it didn’t,” Saleyo says. He inspects the ripeness of one of his pods. “It’s raining now, but it’s already too late.”
Despite rain and other troubles, production levels for Ivory Coast’s cocoa crop remain normal. That’s because the total amount of land being farmed is on the rise.
Rain dearth isn’t the only thing harming cocoa crops. Deforestation (tree removal), child labor, poor farm management, and worker pay all contribute to the industry’s persistent problems.
Some chocolate makers, cocoa traders, and public officials are working to address these issues. Several watchdog groups even release chocolate “scorecards.” The “bitter-sweet” results disclose which companies pay attention to the origins of their sweet treats—and which are bad (chocolate) eggs.
Cocoa farming employs nearly 600,000 farmers in Ivory Coast. The industry supports almost a quarter of the country’s population. That’s about six million people according to the Coffee-Cocoa Council.
Not only that, cocoa makes up about 15% of Ivory Coast’s national GDP, or gross domestic product, according to official figures.
Ivorians grow, harvest, and sell raw cocoa beans. But the crunchy, bitter beans usually head overseas for processing in the multi-billion-dollar chocolate industry.
Now some Ivorians want to profit from their beans’ end products. Ivory Coast chocolatiers turn cocoa beans into beverages, bars, pastes, and powders. They hope revenue from Ivorian cocoa flows back to Ivorian farmers and workers.
As the world heads toward cocoa’s biggest day*, chocolate lovers could benefit from being mindful of the struggles to get the delicacy from tree to tastebud.
*On average, people around the world spend about $400 million on Valentine’s Day chocolate.
Why? Many factors go into a successful industry. Those include natural events as well as conditions that are within human control. Mindful businesspeople and consumers should consider all factors with wisdom, compassion for humans, and care for resources.