The cocoa tree

The cocoa tree evolved in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon basin. There is evidence of cocoa beans being utilized by man as far back as 1000 BC. Nowadays, cocoa is an internationally traded commodity and is the key ingredient of chocolate. There are two main cocoa varieties cultivated commercially. The Criollo variety, cultivated mostly in Latin America, produces fine or flavour quality cocoa. However, its share of the world production is very small. The Forastero variety, mainly grown in Africa and Asia, produces bulk cocoa.


The main cocoa producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and Indonesia. Ivory Coast and Ghana account for almost 60% of the 3.4 million tonnes of cocoa produced worldwide.


Smallholders and plantations

More than 90% of the global cocoa production comes from about 3 million smallholdings and around 14 million workers are employed in primary cocoa production worldwide. West Africa has an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million cocoa farms, 3-5 hectares in extent, employing around 10.5 million people. The harvested pods are processed into cocoa beans on these farms using labour-intensive methods. The proceeds from the sale of cocoa beans are often the main source of family income. Large-scale cocoa plantations are found mainly in Brazil and Indonesia.


The obvious reason for a cocoa farmer to be involved in the cocoa value chain is to attain a satisfactory quality of life. In reality, the nature of the cocoa chain is closely linked to issues of poverty and environmental degradation. Deplorable working conditions, job insecurity, use of child labour, increased workloads and reduced benefits such as health provision, schooling and housing are just a few of the problems faced by smallholders and workers in the cocoa sector.



A farmer’s income from cocoa supplemented with his earnings from other sources, and effecting savings by growing much of the family food requirements, will enable him to keep the family just above the poverty threshold of US$ 2 per capita per day (as established in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations). However, when the farms are very small or have low yields, or at times when cocoa prices are low and/or taxes are raised, the income will fall below the poverty threshold. Realizing bigger margins through added value, redistribution of margins across the supply chain or creating new forms of ownership are necessary to raise the income of farmers. However, there is little market incentive for smallholders to increase productivity, improve the quality of their produce or the sustainability of their production methods.