The other bitterness of Easter chocolate

The cocoa tree is a plant native to the Americas that has adapted well to the lands of West Africa. It is a pure product of the globalization of cultivated plants that began with the first voyage of Christopher Columbus.


Because of this migration of seeds, of which the covetousness of Europeans was once the main engine, Africa became the first cultivator of the cocoa tree originating from South America and Indonesia became the first cultivator of the oil palm originating from Africa. Today, nearly 70% of all cocoa processed on the planet comes from Africa. Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon are the main bean exporting countries.

Côte d’Ivoire alone produces 44% of the world’s cocoa, of which just over half is destined for the European market. A third of Ivorian production and 75% of beans from Ghana, which ranks second in the world, are exported to America. But since the beginning of this very colonial agriculture, African planters have lived in great resentment at not receiving their fair share of the astronomical sums resulting from the processing of their harvest. This other bitterness is not indicated on the chocolate bars.

The predation of African cocoa, but also that from South America, is one of the most shameful and detestable examples of what people like to present to us as the globalization of economies.

In 2018, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (CREDH) estimated that African farmers who work toiling to produce the beans pocket a meager 3% of income from cocoa processing, which represented an industry of 130 billion US dollars in 2020. But a certain solidarity between African producing countries, eager to claim their fair share of the cake, is increasingly felt in this scam system that we do not denounce enough.

Also, as a consumer, it is really worth encouraging small processors who sell fair trade chocolate. Your sweet reward will cost you a little more, but you will have symbolically made a gesture of solidarity.

The cocoa tree is also a formidable plant that nature has shaped to flourish in a system of solidarity cultivation that manufacturers of its bean products would benefit from copying. Young cocoa seedlings thrive under tall trees that serve as their protective mothers. In question, they need 30 to 50% less light than adults. A peculiarity which is explained by the fact that the species is naturally an undergrowth plant. So, even in adulthood, the presence of tall trees that slightly reduce the light is beneficial to cocoa growing.

In Sierra Leone, which is another African cocoa producer, the big sisters that overlook them are sometimes kola trees, these trees whose very caffeine-rich nuts were used in the first Coca-Cola recipes. Moreover, the word “cola” in the famous American drink comes from the language of the Temnes of Sierra Leone. This companionship of cocoa trees by cola trees has always moved me, because the two species would probably never have met if Europeans had not fallen for their sweet version of chocolate from the great pre-Columbian civilizations. It’s moving to see that the cocoa tree they brought to Africa found there a tree belonging to the same family as it, that of the sterculiaceae, to protect it from the sun and help it take root better.

It is a story that is much prettier than the very unfair trade in cocoa. A trade where those who kill themselves at work so that we can put chocolate in all our sauces do not have the means to make their children taste these delicious preparations. However, those who greedily take advantage of this manna would benefit from giving back their fair share to the farmers and better contributing to the development and stability of the producing countries, because all this scaffolding is very fragile. All it takes is for Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which produce 60% of the cocoa, to fall into a period of instability for a large part of this industry to collapse.

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