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%AM, %09 %202 %2014 %03:%Aug

Cocoa Farmers Taste Chocolate For the First Time In Their Lives

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"Frankly, i do not know what one makes from cocoa beans", says Ivorian cocoa farmer N'Da Alphonse to reporter Selay Marius Kouassi.

He says he has heard that it is turned into food, but that he has never tried it. This is because chocolate is not easy to find in Ivory Coast, and when it is, it is sold for about 2.70 dollars, which is about a third of what a farmer like Alphonse makes in a day. This video shows N'Da Alphonse in an interview with Selay Marius Kouassi, a reporter for Metropolis, an international news website. Selay interviews Alphonse about the technique of harvesting the cocoa beans, and the level of poverty that cocoa farmers and their families endure. He also asks him what he thinks is done with the beans after they are shipped. Alphonse had completely no idea and could not even hazard a guess. When Kouassi unwrapped a chocolate bar, Alphonse got so excited, he immediately took Kouassi on his motorbike to share with some of his friends and then the men who work on his farm. The cocoa farmers who were also seeing, feeling and trying the chocolate for the first time were so shocked that such bitter seeds could be refined to produce something so sweet and tasty. Out of excitement, one of the farmers even said jokingly that he sees why the whites are so healthy.

"Are you really sure that this is made from cocoa beans?" one of them asks.

It seems quite odd that a group of people labor so hard towards making a product they never enjoy at last. This video which was published on You tube in February and went viral recently, points out the fact that "Cocoa is a multi-billion industry that divides the world into beggars and gluttons". Hence, it is the aim of the video makers to bring to the attention of the world the plight of Cocoa farmers who are some of the poorest farmers in the world; so poor they can not even comfortably access, buy and enjoy the end product of their hard labour. Even if a chocolate bar made its way to the Ivory Coast, these farmers would not be able to afford it.

Ivory Coast produces more cocoa than any other country in the world; more than a third of the world's cocoa comes from Ivory Coast. But most of the farmers, like Alphonse, are small producers, cultivating less than 12 acres and struggling to survive. Alphonse is supporting 15 family members on 9.40 dollars a day. 

It would be interesting to know that some of these Ivory Coast cocoa workers are even children. Child labor is still a persistent problem in the West African cocoa industry. Another interesting fact is that cocoa is a commodity crop, and not a traditional food in Ivory Coast. It obviously takes a lot of work to turn those bitter cocoa beans into something as delicious as a chocolate bar.

It was the Mesoamericans that first invented chocolate. They however consumed it as a drink. It took several centuries for humans to later figure out how to ferment, roast, and process the beans to turn them into something else - cocoa. Eventually, it was discovered that adding sugar and cocoa butter gave a wonderful blend of taste which has ballooned into a 110 billion dollar a year industry.

Many cocoa farmers like Alphonse, in Ivory Coast and other parts of Africa (not only in West Africa) reap virtually nothing from their hard labour and participation in the supply chain, while companies like Nestle and Mars are pulling in the billions from their sales of chocolate bars.

This imbalance has however been noticed and efforts are being made to change it and better the situation for the farmers.

Rashmee Roshan Lall, a reporter for OZY noted in her recent story on cocoa in Haiti that there is still a lot of opportunity for impoverished farmers to make a better living from the bean, because of the rise of global demand of cocoa by 3.1 percent a year, which is as a result of the new generation of chocoholics in emerging economies.

Nancy Shute also reported that a growing number of bean-to-bar chocolate entrpreneurs, like Madecasse, which works with cacao farmers in Madagascar, are helping to redefine and rebrand the chocolate business. They are also giving farmers a chance to get higher profits.

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