The Ivory Coast produces 1.6 million tons of cocoa beans per annum, making it the largest cocoa bean exporter in the world. Of course cocoa is the main ingredient in chocolate, a multi-billion dollar industry.
However, within the cocoa bean industry is a vast canyon between rich and poor, workers and profiteers. Most Ivory Coast farmers don’t have the luxury of enjoying the product of their hard work: chocolate. The farmers can only speculate as to what comes from the cocoa beans. Many believe the beans are used to make wine. For a farmer, it’s a source of income, and that’s good enough.
A chocolate bar costs two euros in Ivory Coast, where many cocoa farmers only make about seven euros per day. Alfonse, a cocoa farmer from M’batto, uses this money to look after 15 family members and 4 labourers.
In the following video, Alfonse demonstrates the harvesting process for cocoa beans. The cocoa fruit is pulled from the trees, cut open, and the beans are separated and laid out to dry. It’s strange to imagine that nearly every chocolate bar you’ve ever eaten begins in a pile of cocoa beans drying out on a banana leaf somewhere in Ivory Coast.
Behind the touchy-feely exterior of this video is a deeper problem we can all recognize. Compared to big name chocolate companies in the west raking in millions, these Ivory Coast cocoa farmers’ incomes are less than modest.
The reason for this, as CNN explains, is a multi-layered global supply chain in which cocoa farmers like Alfonse are right at the bottom. Farmers like Alfonse lack bargaining power, and are unable to ask for a larger cut of the profits. The profit margin is spread out between exporters, traders, processors and manufacturers, and by the time it comes back to Alfonse there’s barely a sliver of the pie left. When you stack inflation on top of this, the cocoa beans’ economic value has greatly diminished in the last few decades.
Often, farmers cannot afford to pay labourers and must call in their children for support. The issue of child labour has plagued the chocolate industry for years. Most of us would classify child labour as immoral treatment of children, but I suppose it’s easy to speculate when your feet are up and a big bowl of Kit Kats and Mars Bars are on your coffee table.
Alfonse says that trying the chocolate is a “privilege”. It’s sweet and delicious. “This is why white people are so healthy,” says another man. A funny commentary no doubt, but equally charged with a sombre and unintentional irony. After the 5:55 minute video ends, the farmers will reach for their machetes and get back to work. And us? Perhaps we’ll reach for a Twix, or maybe a Snickers.