Cocoa production: an overview
Cocoa trees need a tropical climate to thrive – they love heat and moisture. Therefore, cocoa can only be grown in a few regions close to the equator. About 70 percent of the world's cocoa is grown in West Africa. There, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana are the main growing countries. Only just under 18 percent of the global cocoa harvest comes from Central and South America, the region where cocoa originates from.
There are approximately 5.5 million cocoa farmers worldwide. Cocoa farming also provides a livelihood for around 14 million workers and their families. Cocoa is predominantly grown by smallholder farmers. 90 percent of cocoa cultivation takes place on smaller plots of 2 to 5 hectares. By way of comparison: a soccer field is about 1 hectare in size. A farmer in Germany cultivates an average of 68 hectares.
Cocoa farming is hard manual labour
Cocoa cultivation is very labour-intensive and relies on manual work. It also requires continuous care and harvesting: the cocoa tree blossoms all year round and thus constantly develops fruit. The large cocoa pods grow on its trunk and are harvested by hand. Each cocoa pod contains about 20-50 seeds - the so-called cocoa beans - which are surrounded by a sweet white pulp. It takes a whole year's harvest of one tree to produce half a kilo of cocoa.
Cocoa is also a very sensitive plant that reacts quickly to changes in weather and is susceptible to diseases and pests. After the ripe pods are harvested, they are opened with machetes to expose the beans. The beans are then fermented for several days, which gives the cocoa its typical aroma. The beans are then dried and packed in bags. Now they are ready for resale to the middlemen.
From harvest to transport
From the cocoa bean to chocolate
There is still a long way to go before the bitter bean is turned into chocolate: middlemen buy the bags of raw cocoa beans and sell them to exporters.
Although Côte d'Ivoire is now the world's largest cocoa processor, the factories for further processing belong to international companies, and a large proportion of cocoa beans are still not processed in the countries where they are grown. Four major companies (including Barry Callebaut, Cargil and Olam) dominate cocoa trading and milling. Together, they control about two-thirds of the world's cocoa processing. They process the cocoa in factories around the world.
In the processing factories, the beans are crushed and the shells removed, after which they are roasted and finally ground. The result - the cocoa liquor - is used to make chocolate, or processed into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The final production of chocolate bars and other products is then carried out by chocolate companies in the consumer countries.
From the yearly harvest of one cocoa tree one can produce up to 40 chocolate bars of 100 grams - depending on the cocoa content.