The Challenge

Cocoa, the principal ingredient in chocolate is grown in millions of small family-run farms in remote locations around the world.

In parts of the world where opportunities are few, cocoa farming is a vital economic lifeline, providing an income to more than 4.5 million farmers worldwide. There are an estimated 2 million farms in West Africa alone and in the Cote d’lvoire, cocoa accounts for more than 50% of household income.

The vast majority of cocoa farms are not owned by the companies that make chocolate products or supply cocoa. In some countries, companies that purchase cocoa in bulk are, in fact, prohibited from purchasing cocoa directly from farmers; in other countries, cocoa is purchased from farmers by a national cocoa organization. In either case, it is a complex system of intermediaries that purchases and transports the cocoa from the farm to the port.

Cocoa Farming Quick Facts

  • 4.5 million cocoa farms worldwide
  • 70% of world cocoa is grown in West Africa
  • Over 1.5 million cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana
  • 2.6 million tons of cocoa produced annually in West Africa
  • Average size of farm: 3-7 hectares
  • Average family size: 4-7
  • 2,500 beans per tree

Much as it was 100 years ago, cocoa farming remains a small, family enterprise. In West Africa, for example, the average cocoa farm is a 3 to 4 hectare (or 7 to 10 acre) plot, operated by a family that lives on the farm or nearby.

At the same time, farming families face challenges that make it difficult to realize the true potential of cocoa farming. The fragile nature of the cacao tree makes it vulnerable to pests and disease: each year, farmers can lose anywhere from 30 percent to nearly their entire cocoa crop. The limited availability of improved seeds or planting material means that farmers are harvesting from trees that are old and produce low yields.

Limited knowledge of new, more efficient farming techniques also reduces crop yields and incomes. Lack of organization among groups of farmers limits their ability to purchase supplies at a lower cost, access helpful market information or secure a better price for their cocoa. Low literacy rates also hamper farmers as well as the farming community.

Health and social issues impact the community as well, notably a lack of access to quality, relevant education for children on cocoa farms. In West Africa, many cocoa farming families must also contend with HIV/AIDS, malaria and poor quality drinking water on a daily basis.

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