by thetanvi

 Environmental sociology Commodity

Cocoa, a commodity widespread and popular for the production of chocolate, is primarily used for consumption although it can serve as an ingredient in a wide variety of products. Since it is a cultivated crop it’s renewable, more cocoa can be grown although it takes years for the trees to grow old enough to bear fruit. The components of cocoa, the land, labor, and water inputs necessary for production are renewable as well. Cocoa is grown in warm climates with high rainfall, often in tropical regions along the equator. The major growers of chocolate are in South and Central America, Southeast Asia, and Western Africa. Eight countries produce 88% of cocoa, with the Ivory Coast easily taking the lead, growing at least 40% of the supply.

Although the chocolate industry is quite profitable, the cocoa growers see very little of the profits of their labor. Due to low income provided to the growers of cocoa, cocoa farming generally has low intensity conditions and grown in mostly organic conditions by small individual farms. Usually cocoa trees are planted in the shade of other trees including banana and coconut trees and cocoa plants leave the smallest mark of all the tropical cash crops. 1 Although it does leave the “smallest mark”, cocoa growth still results in extensive environmental harm, including biodiversity decline, soil fertility decline, and soil erosion.1 The land used in tropical regions is normally suited for rainforests, which contain many producers and serve as carbon sinks. However when this land is converted to other uses, such as agriculture this results in the loss of thin soils of the regions and the wide variety of biodiversity that thrives in the lush conditions of a rainforest.

Historically, the first to domesticate, consume and cultivate the cocoa plant were the Mayans, who used it as a ritual drink in ceremonies. Cocoa beans were even used as currency, and according to ancient records, a horse was worth ten beans. The Spanish, along with their “discovery” of the Americas, came across cocoa. Eventually, hot chocolate drinks became popular throughout Europe and farms for the commodity were planted all along equatorial regions. Issues with child labor and slavery in the context of cocoa production are rampant. The cultivation and harvesting of cocoa crops is labor intensive and thus must be kept to small farms with numerous workers. The main producer of cocoa, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), has “about 600,000 cocoa farms (Child Labor Coalition). Estimates of the number of children forced to work as slaves on these farms are as high as 15,000 (Save the Children Canada).” Harsh and inhumane conditions that workers and children in forced labor situations from trafficked children from Mali are evident in the case study “Chocolate and Slavery” by Samlanchith Chanthavong. 3

Harvesting cocoa is extremely labor intensive and is conducted year round through rigorous manual labor, with workers collecting and breaking open pods. Since the cocoa plants are extremely sensitive, this is a demanding process. The beans are then dried, often in the sunlight, and then fermented. Then the cocoa is exported in burlap, sisal or polymer bags to a port. From there the cocoa is off to shipment and warehouses and eventually processing. In the U.S. “just-in-time” delivery to manufacturers takes place, while in Europe mega bulk shipments are received and held prior to processing. Manufacture and processing of chocolate varies, depending on the desired product. Roasting, shelling and grinding takes place if the cocoa is to become chocolate as well as blending, conching and refining. Exportation of cocoa is a significant cash crop for many impoverished communities. For instance, the Ivory Coast depends on the sales of cocoa for one third of its economy. 3 Cocoa is considered one of the most unstable commodities in terms of fluctuating market prices (Gbetiboao and Delgado p. 141).

The profitability of cocoa depends on world prices that farmers’ cannot control and also on natural conditions that affect cocoa yields, such as droughts (Grootaert, p. 24). For instance, since 1996 the price for a pound of cocoa beans has dropped from sixty-four cents to fifty-one cents. Consequently this negatively affects the farmers as they get less profits, so then they look for ways to cut costs by using cheap labor, driving them to even resort to use slave labor (Child Labor Coalition). 3 (Chanthravong 2003)

According to “Improving understanding through environment and policy interlinkages in Africa” trade situations in Africa is leading to severe economic poverty throughout several countries as a result of the dependence on a too narrow range of primary commodities, including cocoa. The growing of “cash crops” such as cocoa has devastating effects on people impoverished people and populations. Rather than growing their own food to be self sufficient, peoples are forced into debt and work to serve others as their land, resources, traditions and peace are snatched away from them in order to sustain the luxury of others through out the first world, or core countries.

A brief outline of the entire system required to produce and process 1 kg of cocoa bean is provided by Environmental impacts of cocoa production and processing in Ghana: life cycle assessment approach. It included the “extraction of raw materials (e.g. fossil fuels, minerals), the production of farming inputs (e.g. fertilizers and pesticides) and all agricultural operations in the field (e.g. tillage, fertilizer and pesticides application, harvest, etc.). Transportation of beans to processing factory and industrial processing of the beans”. This brief description gives a glimpse to the many steps it takes to bring the exotic tropical plant from it’s fields to where wealthy and privileged can enjoy it. The decisions made in each step, from where and how the cocoa is grown, by whom and why it is harvested, how the cocoa is transported, then how it is processed and packaged. The waste from the chocolate is always determined by the packaging, and the disposal is minimal, although recyclable and minimal packing options do exist. Buying organically grown and fair-traded chocolate determines the impact the chocolate’s overall impact, socially and environmentally.  Even when making concerned and consciouncous choices in purchases, unnecessary exploitation of resources and peoples were made at the expense of the sweet treat.  The profits that go mainly to distributors and corporations while losses are cut at the cost of growers, production, and packaging. Still, the large portion allocated to marketing, advertisement, and packaging can be funneled towards efficiency and reduction in waste and oppression by the choices of all consumers. We are all stakeholders in this commodity, the consumers, the producers, and the world at large.


[1]  “Environmental Impacts of Food Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption- a research report completed for the dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Manchester Business School” December 2006

[1] The Rich Heritage of the Cocoa Bean

[1] Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire

[1] Cocoa from tree to table