How many times were you told as a child that chocolate was not good for you? Hundreds?
Well now you can call your mom up and in a sweet, loving way let her know she may have been wrong. Not only is cocoa helping roughly 50 million people make a living, but new discoveries that cocoa may have cardiovascular health benefits is helping increase the demand for this little black bean.
The World Cocoa Foundation reports about 90% to 95% of all cocoa beans are grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries with 70% of production coming from West African countries. Ghana (and every cocoa producing nation) depends heavily on the production of cocoa in direct and indirect ways. Cocoa production generates revenue to a nation by not only taxing the incomes of farmers, but also all the services required to convert the beans into the final product. These services include transportation, storage, processing and grinding. Developing nations pump these increased revenues into infrastructure and public services which help the country continue to grow.
Luckily for these farmers and developing nations, there are a few global trends that are increasing the demand for their beans. Cocoa beans are used in a variety of products including chocolate, cocoa butter, pharmaceuticals, makeup and soap. These products have naturally increased in demand by about 2.2% per year for the last decade. However, with the increasing size of the middle class in emerging markets, the demand for discretionary products, such as chocolate and cosmetic products, are increasing rapidly.
Another trend benefiting cocoa growers is the recent discoveries of the health benefits of chocolate. The Cleveland Clinic discusses the fact that cocoa beans are known to contain flavonoids that act like antioxidants. English: cocoa has the potential to help bad cholesterol, stop plaque formation on the walls of arteries and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Better yet, dark chocolate contains more of these flavonoids, requires more cocoa beans to produce and developed countries are already consuming more dark chocolate. The outcome of these trends will be more people consuming more cocoa beans. Great for farmers? Yes, but it will take some work.
The Economist argues that because the industry is so fragmented, historically, there has not been a lot of investment in cocoa farming technology. It currently takes 3-5 years for a cocoa tree to produce fruit and at that point only 30% of the fruit develop into bean producing pods. Combine this with the fact that one-third of all plants are plagued by diseases, farmers are definitely facing an uphill battle to profit from these trends. An international team of agricultural experts including representatives from the United States, France, the World Bank and Mars Inc. have banded together to help rural farmers. On their list to do is to develop pesticides that can be used in the rain forest, develop systems of proper fertilizer usage, and educate farmers on ways to diversify the crops they plant and hedge their income streams. They have already made great strides forward on many of these goals and are helping satisfy the worlds growing demand for cocoa.
Chocolate: increasing employment one bar at a time.