Milk, white or dark? Cake, brownie or tart? Perhaps even a fondue or fountain? Eating, drinking and even smothering ourselves in chocolate-mud-packs are such normal activities (well, maybe not the last one), that it’s easy to forget where that cocoa comes from.
Grown in tropical climates near the equator, cocoa beans are mainly produced in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, from where the plant originates. Long associated with Mayan and Aztec culture and rituals, the majority of cocoa is now grown and farmed in African countries such as Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire; the latter now producing around 40% of the world’s supply, while the former was the principal producer for most of the 20th century.
We often associate good-quality chocolate with luxury and indulgence, but it’s not often the case for the farmers producing the beans. In Ghana for example, the majority of farms are small, family-owned plots of only a few hectares, not the huge plantations we normally associate with mass production on this scale. Luckily, many of these farmers are protected by a growing commitment to Fairtrade production, with now more than ten top brands committed to producing Fairtrade chocolate products.
Leading the way in this movement is Divine chocolate, which first launched in the UK in 1998 and is the only chocolate company to be 44% owned by the farmers that grow the beans. This means that not only are the farmers paid a fair price for their produce, but they also stand to share in the profits. With the aim of trading cocoa more fairly, empowering women to participate in the production, and pushing for environmentally-friendly methods, a cooperative of Ghanaian farmers, Kuapa Kokoo (meaning ‘good cocoa growers’), was formed in the early 1990s. Today, with over 80,000 members from over a thousand villages, they are still part of a huge drive for change, with the cooperative holding shares in the company and having two members on the board of directors.
Does this really matter? When one of the biggest brands in the industry, Cadbury, made the change to supporting Fairtrade with all Dairy Milk chocolate certified as Fairtrade from 2009, it became clear that this does matter – both to the farmers and to big businesses. The chocolate market in the UK alone is worth billions, so even small changes can make a huge difference in monetary terms. Recently, and much closer to home, the principles of Fairtrade have been at the forefront of British food culture with the campaign by UK farmers to be paid a fair price for milk. This all plays a part in the recent shift in food culture away from mass production to more craft and specialist producers.