Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cocoa Production in West Africa | With Recipe for West African Hot Chocolate

Do you know where your chocolate comes from?

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which grow primarily in the tropical climates of West Africa, Asia, and Latin America. West African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. The cocoa they grow and harvest is sold to chocolate companies around the world, who process it into the chocolate products we know and love. 

A cocoa pod contains 20 to 50 beans - about 400 dried beans are needed to make 1 pound of chocolate
Cocoa pods in cocoa plantations in Ghana & Cote d'Ivoire. 
Photo Credit: Left & Centre by Rebecca Bollwitt; Right by JB Doane (CC - adapted into collage)

In West Africa, cocoa is a cash crop, that is to say grown primarily for export - in fact, 60% of Cote d'Ivoire's export revenue comes from cocoa. 
Although not native to West Africa, cocoa thrives in the tropical, forested areas where cocoa farms are found. Harvest occurs over several months, sometimes throughout the year because pods don't dry at the same rate or at the same time.

Over 1/4 of Ivorians are involved in growing cocoa beans

A harvested cocoa pod, split open to reveal the pulp and seeds.
Photo Credit: JB Dodane (CC)

Cocoa pods grow directly from the trunk or a large branch of the trees. They are picked off trees when dry and ready for harvest. The pods are split open, usually with machete, and the pulp & seeds are removed while the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are left to ferment - as the pulp ferments and liquefies, it trickles away, leaving behind the seeds. The seeds are then fermented and dried, generally for up to two weeks, depending on the weather. The dried cocoa beans are then packed and shipped to factories in the UK, Netherlands, US, and other countries.

  • There's a short article, with two videos created by Ivorian youth about cocoa plantations and their owners here.
  • There's an interesting video of cocoa farmers who have never tasted chocolate before here.

It's estimated that one person can harvest 650 pods a day, and that a person can separate beans from 2000 pods a day (!)

Cocoa beans drying in a village in Ghana
Photo Credit: Francesco Veronesi (CC)

Child Labour

Unfortunately, to learn about cocoa production in West Africa is to learn about child labour. 

The chocolate industry continues to grow, and so does the demand for cheap cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 a day. In order to keep their prices competitive, many farms have and continue today to resort to child labour to keep their prices competitive.

Some tout that this isn't a real issue, that what is considered child labour in our society is simply the different value of children helping out their parents and family livelihood. However, this isn't necessarily the case. 

There are many family owned farms, in which all members of the family, children included, participate in running it - from harvesting the cocoa to maintaining the property. This isn't the issue (though even in these cases, the work often takes the place of access to education).

There are multiple sources, including major chocolate producing companies and children who have escaped the situation, that confirm that hazardous, often coerced & forced child labor is a real issue in West Africa. It's a heartbreaking truth that child trafficking, modern day slavery, and unfit and dangerous conditions (using machetes, carrying extremely heavy loads, applying potent pesticides without protective gear) are a reality many children live with.

What's being done and what can we do?

A cocoa cooperative that works towards ending child labor in the cocoa industry in Cote d'Ivoire
Photo Credit: JB Dodane (CC)

There are cooperatives that have been formed to help small farms maintain a decent income with many benefits, often working under fair trade status. Buying fair trade chocolate helps to keep these cooperatives afloat. You can find a fairly long list of chocolate companies that don't source their cocoa from farms with child labour here

One company in particular has caught my eye, and has tasty chocolate: Divine Chocolate, a fair trade chocolate company with shares owned by its cooperative cocoa farmers in Ghana. (It's also fun to note all the adinkra symbols on the packaging).  

Read more about child labour and slavery in West African cocoa plantations here:

West African Hot Chocolate

To end on a sweeter note, here's a recipe for rich and sweet hot chocolate that's popular in Ghana. With our cold and snowy winter, it's a delicious drink that could easily substitute dessert! Serves 4.

  • 200 grams of dark chocolate (that's two 3.5oz chocolate bars), broken into pieces.
  • 4 cups of whole milk
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tsp clear honey
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Put everything together and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is melted, remove the cinnamon stick, and whisk one last time. Serve and enjoy!

Photo Credit for Title Image: John Loo (CC - Adapted with overlay)


  1. So interesting. As you know I adore chocolate but reading this post and the links has definitely made me look at it in a different light. I shall try to buy Fair Trade from now on. The recipe looks scrummy yummy and one which is so suited to the February Bloooos!

    1. It's an excellent recipe for the February blooos :) It's difficult learning about these matters - especially when it taints something you love, and realistically fair trade can be difficult to obtain - though I'm noticing it more and more. I can't in all honesty say I only buy fair trade, but I strive towards it.

  2. I struggle with this issue for chocolate because I love it, but I also don't love how it's linked to slave labor, so I'm thinking and praying through it right now.

    1. It's a difficult issue to grapple with, I know. I've known about this for years, and I still struggle with it.


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