Cocoa farmers taste cocoa for the first time and love it in a new viral video. Making rounds on the internet this week is a viral video of Cocoa farmers from the Ivory Coast trying chocolate for the first time. The impoverished farmers said they grow the cocoa beans but have no idea what it done with it or how people eat it. They were quite impressed and decided it was extremely delicious. They joked that it must be what keeps white people healthy.
The video shows Selay Marius Kouassi traveling to the Ivory Coast with pockets full of chocolate bars. He interviews N’Da Alphonse about the technique of harvesting the cocoa beans and the poverty that cocoa farmers and their families endure. The shocking part comes when Kouassi asks Alphonse what he thinks is done with the beans after they are shipped. Alphonse could not even hazard a guess, being aware of the bitterness of the raw seeds. Then Kouassi unwrapped a chocolate bar. Alphonse was so excited he took Kouassi to share some with his friends and then the men who work on his farm. It seems odd that a group of people labor to produce a product they never enjoy, but as the movie points out, “Cocoa is a multi-billion industry that divides the world into beggars and gluttons.” The video makers hope to bring attention to the plight of Cocoa farmers who are some of the poorest farmers in the world. Even if a chocolate bar made its way to the Ivory Coast, these men would not be able to afford it.
A typical bar of chocolate costs $2.70 in the Ivory Coast which is about a third of one day’s profit. That money is split among workers and feeds their typically large, extended families. Compare that with Jacqueline, John and Forrest Mars, the heirs to the chocolate and candy empire, who are worth approximately 19.5 billion each and comprise the third richest family in America according to Forbes. The Mars Company took in $33 billion in revenue in 2012. The Hershey Company is also not doing badly with $7.15 billion in annual sales as of 2014. Nestle makes approximately $20 billion from chocolate and candy. The total world market for chocolate is expected to reach $88 billion in 2014. However, the farmers who produce the 3.8 million tons of cocoa beans will only see a tiny fraction of the money.
While the profits for multinational chocolate companies have soared in the last three decades, the price of raw cocoa beans has dropped when adjusted for inflation. Cocoa farmers get about six percent of the cost of a candy bar whereas the chocolate companies enjoy 70 percent. Farmers in the Ivory Coast can get as little as 40 – 50 percent of what their beans are traded for on the world market due to local trading structures. According to Make Chocolate Fair, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the lopsided distribution of wealth with regard to cocoa production, “The cocoa farmers and their families are the losers in a lucrative cocoa and chocolate industry. “
In addition to the expense, Ivory Coast farmers are unfamiliar with chocolate because cocoa is not native to Africa. The tree is indigenous to Central America and 4,000 years ago the Olmecs were the first civilization to harvest its seeds. Cocoa was brought to Africa completely as a commodity crop. Watching the cocoa farmers taste chocolate for the first time is poignant, and even more so because of the inequity they suffer. They love the chocolate but will not be able to buy any more once the film crews depart.
Cocoa beans are actually seeds inside a fleshy pod that grows on the trunk and branches of a small tree. Growing only 40 – 60 feet tall, the cacao tree is dwarfed and protected by the rainforest giants. The cacao tree only grows in the hot rainy tropics within 20 degrees north or south of the equator. Animals will eat the juicy pods but only humans eat the bitter seeds. Most cocoa comes from small farms where workers hack the pods from the trees and open them by hand. A good farmer can open 500 pods per hour. After removing the seeds, the farmers ferment them under banana leaves to dry them out and tame the bitterness. Next, the seeds are dried in the sun on makeshift racks. Then the cocoa beans are carried by hand, donkey, cart or old truck to the local buyer. Once shipped to Europe, the beans are roasted, ground and mixed with sugar and cream to make the delicious chocolate that the industrial world is addicted to, but that many Cocoa farmers never taste.
The 2012 documentary by Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano The Dark Side of Chocolate also explores the hardship caused by the unbalanced chocolate economy. The reporters went undercover to research child trafficking and child slavery in the Ivory Coast cocoa trade. They found that children as young as seven were smuggled from Mali to work for little or no wages in the cocoa groves. Desperate to harvest enough cocoa to cover living expenses, farmers may use child labor, cut salaries, not provide proper working conditions, not invest in their farms, or they may cut down more native forests to grow more cacao trees. All these non-solutions undermine their ability to claim their fair share of the chocolate market.
Before people stop eating chocolate, they should remember that a thriving cocoa trade should be good for the farmers. If farmers were paid a fair market value for their beans it would pull the people of the Ivory Coast out of poverty. Most of the top chocolate companies have pledged to work towards eradicating child labor on the cocoa farms. Organizations such as the International Cocoa Initiative help keep growers and buyers accountable. Beyond that, many small companies now offer fair-trade chocolate. Candy makers partner with growers to create sustainable farming methods, decent working conditions and fair prices for the cocoa beans. Consumers can look for the fair-trade logo to make sure they are contributing to a more balanced global chocolate economy.
Watching these cocoa farmers taste chocolate for the first time can serve as a reminder about the current system and how it can be changed. Alphonse and his friends now know what cocoa beans are for, and, what they are missing. Unfortunately, even though they grow the raw material, their salaries cannot support a chocolate habit no matter how much they love it. Education of the farmers about the entire chocolate trade and better business practices may make a difference. Education of consumers about where the cocoa comes from and the people who grow it may also make a difference. With more awareness of the price paid by the cocoa farmers, their first time tasting chocolate may not be their last.
Opinion by: Rebecca Savastio
The Story of Chocolate