The demand for chocolate is high but the production of cocoa beans is sluggish at best. Not good news for chocolate lovers (if there is a shortage) but it may help stop the dangerous child labor numbers from escalating in cocoa fields all over western Africa.
The Ivory Coast supplies most of the worlds cocoa and the industry is worth more than US $110 billion on a global scale. The problem is the increasing demand for the delicious bean and the sad reality that cocoa farmers are faced with. Most of the chocolate beans are grown on small, family plantations which are only a few acres large. Land that was handed down from generation to generation, each generation struggling more than the last, to keep up with the immense bids for the cocoa.
Harvesting cocoa beans can be a perilous job for an adult, let alone children, but the vast poverty of the country leaves the toiling families no other choice. The land owners simply do not have enough man power to harvest the crops, so children are forced to work long hours hauling loads of beans over very lengthy distances. The young workers breathe in pesticides, and other unsafe chemicals used in agriculture, with no protective gear of any kind. Most threatening of all is the children’s use of machetes, resulting in many cases of ghastly leg wounds. Many of the children are held captive, beaten and unwillingly made to work. Some of the children are as young as 11 years old.
CNN highlighted the dismal situation in its documentary Chocolate’s Child Slaves and has recently released a follow up documentary titled, Cocoa-nomics. The shows host, Richard Quest, reveals that the cocoa farmers have no idea exactly what the chocolate they are toiling over, even tastes like. Proof of the hardship these land owners face, one worker asked, “Where would we get it?” The answer came, following Quests question of if the laborer had ever tasted chocolate before. In a touching part of the film, Quest hands a piece of the dark, sweet gold to the laborer who, after eating it said, “It’s good. It’s good to eat!”
The question remains, how far will consumers go for chocolate if a shortage arises and will a possible price increase be enough to stop the dangerous child labor conditions? But it isn’t the falling production rates that are worrying Heinrich Stubbe of Stubbe Chocolates. “Chocolate is not really in their consumption now.” said Stubbe on Chinas and India’s awakening market. Stubbes continues, “But it’s coming, and it scares me.”
The price of cocoa beans went up by 30 percent in the last year, according to the International Cocoa Organization. Stubbe says other issues play a role in the strain for demand, “The consumer is more educated. They want higher cocoa. They want more quality.”
Even the colossal chocolate firm, Hershey’s, has created a strategy to help cope with this inevitable and upcoming, foreseeable chocolate disaster. The chocolate tycoons have called this project the “21st Century Cocoa Strategy” which is designed to increase the stockpile.
Will the chocolate shortage be enough to stop the dangerous child labor situation in Africa? Or will the greed of humans just add more pressure on the poverty stricken farmers, leaving them no choice but to continue the use of child slavery, to produce more and more beans.
By Derik L. Bradshaw