Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

Ghana’s cocoa farmers are trapped by the chocolate industry

The chocolate industry is worth more than $80 billion a year. But some cocoa farmers in parts of West Africa are poorer now than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. In other areas, artificial support for cocoa farming is creating a debt problem. Farmers are also still under pressure to supply markets in wealthy countries instead of securing their own future.

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons
Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

In research published last year I explored sustainability programmes designed to support cocoa farming in West Africa. My aim was to identify winners and losers.

I looked at initiatives such as CocoaAction, a $500 million “sustainability scheme” launched in 2014, and concluded that they were done in the interests of large multinationals. They did not necessarily relieve poverty or develop the region’s economies. In fact they created new problems.

To sustain their livelihoods, the cocoa farmers of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana need to diversify away from cocoa production. But multinational chocolate companies need farmers to keep producing cocoa.

Diversification

Farmers choose to diversify their crops for a host of reasons. These include a reduction in the resources they need to produce a crop (such as suitable land), and a reduction in the price they can get for the crop.

Cocoa farming requires tropical forestland. This is limited; it is not possible to keep expanding to new land to keep producing cocoa. So when the land is exhausted, farmers would benefit from diversifying to products like rubber and palm oil. They do not need to grow cocoa for its own sake.

A great deal of diversification occurred during the cocoa crisis of the 1970s in Ghana. Cereal output increased from 388,000 tonnes in 1964/1965 to over 1 million tonnes in 1983/83, and decreased when cocoa was “revitalised”. The same was the case with coconut, palm oil and groundnut.

But such diversification is more recently being prevented by multinationals and other stakeholders who want cocoa cultivation to continue. Multinationals that depend on cocoa as a raw material openly (and rightly) regard diversification as a risk to their business. So they keep spending on cocoa farming inputs.

Why there’s a limit to cocoa

In West Africa, cocoa has historically been cultivated using slash and burn farming. Forest was cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot became infertile, the farmer moved to fresh forestland and did the same again.

The new land offered fertile soil, a favourable microclimate and fewer pests and diseases. Growing the cocoa took less labour and yielded more.

This explains the link between cocoa farming and deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. A recent investigation showed that since 2000, Ivorian cocoa has been dependent on protected areas. Almost half of Mont Peko National Park, for example, which is home to endangered species, as well as Marahoue National Park has been lost to cocoa planting since 2000.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the area covered by forest decreased from 16 million hectares – roughly half of the country – in 1960 to less than 2 million hectares in 2005.

Forestland is finite. Slash and burn is no longer an option, because so much of the forest is gone. In West Africa, planters are now staying on the same piece of land and reworking it.

This has created its own set of problems.

Rising costs and threats

In both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, several estimates of the cost of maintaining a cocoa farm show that the investment costs required for replanting have approximately doubled. One estimate of labour investment put the replanting effort at 260 days per hectare, compared with 74 days per hectare for planting using slash and burn.

The extra labour needed for sedentary cultivation is leading to child trafficking and child labour in cocoa cultivation. Child trafficking generally occurs when planters are searching for cheaper sources of labour for replanting.

Planters who have successfully diversified into other crops have stopped using child labour. In the cocoa industry, however, the use of child labour is increasing. For example, the number of child labourers in the Ivorian cocoa industry increased by almost 400,000 between 2008 and 2013.

There has also been a massive increase in the use of fertilisers and pesticides to aid cocoa production without slash and burn.

The increased input (labour, fertilisers and pesticides) for replanting land amounts to a higher production cost. It cannot be adjusted by price setting. Cocoa producers have no control over price; they are price takers. So the higher production cost reduces the profit made by cocoa farmers.

This explains why cocoa producers in Côte d’Ivoire are poorer now  than they were decades ago.

In Ghana, the government, through the cocoa marketing board, COCOBOD, has managed the transition from slash and burn to sedentary farming. The government created a mass spraying programme to control diseases and pests. It also subsidised fertiliser and created a pricing policy that has sometimes amounted to a government subsidy this links need users to subscribe. Due to the extra free input provided by the government, sometimes supported by NGOs and multinational corporations, farmers have not become poorer in Ghana. But the approach has led to huge debt for COCOBOD. For example, COCOBOD incurred GHc2 billion (US$367 million) debt for subsidising the price of cocoa for the year 2017.

Although cocoa planters are faring well in Ghana, it is not clear that Ghana’s cocoa sector is really a success story. The shift to debt financing has artificially produced the success.

The way forward

Cocoa “sustainability” activities are not the way forward. Cocoa sustainability is a new form of colonisation in Africa, because its real goal is to prevent African planters from diversifying away from cocoa into other crops. These programmes keep the cocoa industry going under deteriorating conditions.

The way forward is to switch from cocoa to crops that do not require forestland (new or exhausted), extra fertilisers or more labour.

Research has shown that cocoa planters in Côte d’Ivoire who have diversified into other crops, such as rubber, have succeeded in escaping poverty.

But that is seen as a major threat to the supply of raw material to Western multinationals. One representative of a large chocolate multinational explained “my enemy is not my competitor in the purchase of cocoa, but the rubber industry.”

In conclusion, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have to think about what is best for them instead of what is best for the chocolate industry and consumers in the developed world.

Ecuador and its chocolate evolution

After centuries of exporting its finest cacao beans, Ecuador has produced a new generation of chocolatiers that is turning them into first-rate chocolate. Paul Richardson tastes the world’s best bars.

Choco evolution

Ecuador’s cacao zone is to chocolate cognoscenti what Bordeaux is to wine-lovers. Ivory Coast and Ghana lead the world in the production of bulk cacao – the stuff that goes towards your average Cadbury or Hershey’s bar – but the cacao grown in the strip of fertile plain running from the Pacific Ocean to the foot of the Andes, which takes in the provinces of Guayas, Esmeraldas, Manabí and El Oro, is a cut above. Cacao de arriba, as the local variety is known, has depth, subtlety and haunting aromas that run the gamut of tropical and citrus fruits, nuts and berries, flowers and spices.

At the heart of the cacao zone, an hour outside Guayaquil, lies Hacienda La Danesa, a 500-hectare estate specialising in cacao de arriba. La Danesa has recently found fame as a pioneer in “cacao tourism”, bringing visitors from the coast on a narrow-gauge railway. Stepping off the train, they enter a different world.

A cacao plantation is an artificial woodland which looks unfamiliar, even weird, to European eyes. The trees are pruned low and close, with a surprising reddish-pink crown of upper leaves. The swollen fruits, which hang not among the leaves but directly from the trunk, are deep reddish-purple when unripe, taking on hues of pale green, brown, yellow and orange as they mature. Plucked off the bough they feel heavy in the hand, their skin as deeply grooved as a pumpkin. The cacao plantations in this region are tended by traditionally attired horsemen-farmers, the montubios.

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In an outbuilding, visitors are given a demonstration of traditional chocolate-making. The cacao beans in their sticky, white casing are fermented in wooden cases, dried in the tropical sun, toasted and ground to an oily mash. The toasted beans have the mahogany-brown colour of finished chocolate, but still taste earthy, yeasty and bitter. Only when sugar is added does the miracle occur, releasing the rich flavours to billow out like a genie from a bottle.

When La Danesa was founded in 1870, Guayaquil was burgeoning thanks to a cacao boom that created a wealthy bourgeois class. In the early 20th century, a series of plagues devastated the plantations; powerful competitors – notably Ghana and Brazil – entered the market and prices plummeted. But a century later Ecuadorean cacao is once more on the rise. China and India have acquired a taste for chocolate, leading to a huge increase in global demand – and not only for the cheap bulk stuff, which accounts for 85% of world production, but also for high-quality varieties like cacao de arriba, used in small quantities to give depth and interest to dull commercial chocolate. A growing taste for dark chocolate is also boosting demand for these so-called “fine and flavour” cacaos, especially in Europe.

The Ecuadorean cacao industry has duly moved up a gear: according to the export agency, ProEcuador, the years 2007-11 saw an average annual growth of 14%. While Brazil continues to recover from an outbreak of disease that blighted its crop in the 1990s, three years ago Ecuador became Latin America’s number-one producer.

 

As the appetite for Ecuador’s sublime chocolate grows, the structure of the industry is changing. Traditionally, developing-world farmers grew beans and rich-world manufacturers turned them into bars. But a new generation of Ecuadorean chocolate-makers – 26 at the last count – is processing cacao in situ. We are not talking mass-market slabs: these are chocolates that take you on a journey, carrying the palate on intense flavour-waves of citrus and red berries punctuated with earthy notes of walnuts, cedar and tobacco. Most of the new brands have their eyes on overseas markets, but the taste for dark chocolate is catching on locally.

Most successful of the newcomers are Pacari – 14 years in the game and a regular prizewinner at all the European chocolate fairs – and República del Cacao, which has shops all over Latin America and was recently bought into by French chocolate-meisters Valrhona. But coming up on the inside is Hoja Verde, the brainchild of José Nicolás Vélez, a Quito-based entrepreneur. His wares are made with organic cacao sourced from small plantations in the province of Esmeraldas; their idiosyncratic packaging in swirly pop colours is as striking as the dense aromas of the chocolate itself, which lingers and reverberates in the mouth long after eating.

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The Hoja Verde factory is to be found not in the tropical cacao zone, but in the sub-Andean highlands of the country’s central region where the temperatures are cool and the humidity low. The building stands within a few metres of a monument marking the position of the Equator. It’s a splendid coincidence, for this is indeed a chocolate that straddles two hemispheres: south and north, great cacao and fine chocolaterie.

The smell inside is rich, cloying and delicious. So far, so like every other chocolate factory in the world – but by multinational standards this is a cottage industry. Hoja Verde will never compete with Cadbury or Hershey’s, nor would it want to fight in the same cheap-choc arena. On the office walls hang framed certificates testifying to Hoja Verde’s strong showing at this year’s Academy of Chocolate Awards. I taste my way through the range, deciding that the star bar is the 72%, whose flavour-journey takes the palate from spice and vanilla to tropical fruit (papaya, persimmon), ending on a high note of floral fragrance.

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Back in Quito I visit Vélez’s recently opened Chocolab on Plaza de la Independencia, at the heart of the colonial old town, where in-house chocolatiers create bespoke bars with local ingredients such as amaranth, candied fava bean, caramelised peanuts, uvilla (goldenberry) and fried corn. It’s an example of Ecuador’s growing culture of chocolate discernment – another being the young chefs who are making cacao fino de aroma a key ingredient in the country’s nascent contemporary cuisine. Juan José Morán at La Pizarra in Guayaquil creates savoury dishes like tuna ceviche with grated Pacari chocolate; and at Quitu, where the talented Juan Sebastián Pérez holds court, the long tasting menu features a terrine of Hoja Verde 100% with a mousse of avocado-flower honey and sweet pumpkin ice cream.

So the revolution continues, even as local consumption rises – albeit from a low base: compare Ecuador’s annual 300g per person with Germany’s 9kg. Trends that chocophiles will want to watch are raw chocolate, made with untoasted cacao, vintage chocolate with a specific year of production and strict bean-to-bar chocolates from single plantations. Before long, it seems safe to predict, the new Ecuadorean chocolate will be on everybody’s lips.


Paul Richardson is the author of “Indulgence: One man’s selfless search for the best chocolate in the world”. He travelled to Ecuador with miravivatravel.com

Kale and peanut butter: The Green smoothie recipe loaded with Kale, Peanut Butter, and Joy

Kale and peanut butter: The Green smoothie recipe loaded with Kale, Peanut Butter, and Joy

You love the classic peanut butter combos, like bananas and peanut butter and chocolate and peanut butter. Now, get ready to fall in love with a new one: kale and peanut butter.

Kale and peanut butter: The Green smoothie recipe loaded with Kale, Peanut Butter, and Joy

This green smoothie recipe is guaranteed to make you a fan of this power couple—not only because of its taste but because it’s a nutritional powerhouse.

You already know kale is a superfood green; it supplies more than 650 percent of your recommended daily value (RDV) of vitamin A and more than 900 percent of your RDV of vitamin K in a single cup, plus more iron per ounce than beef (when cooked) and 45 types of flavonoids (which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties).

If you’re a PB addict, you can probably recite the health benefits of peanuts by heart; they’re loaded with healthy fats that help reduce your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Combine these two delicious, healthy superfoods, and you really can’t lose.

If this green smoothie was *mind-blowing* for you, give these other kale smoothies and peanut butter smoothies a try.

Kale Peanut Butter Green Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup kale, packed
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 2 tbs peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • Chia seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Add kale to the blender first, then banana and peanut butter, followed by the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Blend until smooth, garnish with chia seeds (optional), and enjoy!

P.S. Next time your kale is about to spoil, or your banana is getting a little too brown, don’t toss them—freeze them! Prep the ingredients (wash and slice as necessary), then store in an airtight freezer bag.

Next time you’re craving a one of these smoothies, you’ll have the ingredients (minus the peanut butter, almond milk, and ice) ready to go. From there, just add liquid ingredients first, then solid ingredients, and blend.