Although the international trade of cacao has grown exponentially over centuries and brought great wealth and economic power to people and countries; there have been dire consequences that indigenous people and the production quality of the cacao have suffered. The cacao trade has become a world leader of raw commodities, and as the United Nations reports, the industry produces roughly 4.7 million tons per year which ranks number 17 in the global import market (chart below).
Yet, despite this incredible success, evidence shows that the more powerful have continued to exploit the more vulnerable.
Additional information and current trends and market data for the International Cacao Trade, can be seen here: http://www.icco.org/statistics/monthly-review-of-the-market.html
(Chart by UN~FAOSTAT, demonstrating raw food tonnage by import category, for 2011.)
|Rank||Commodity||Quantity (tonnes)||Flag||Value (1000 $)||Flag||Unit value ($/tonne)|
|3||Food Prep Nes||13416474||13||49892030||3||3719|
|6||Rubber Nat Dry||7179256||27||33765962||6||4703|
|10||Cake of Soybeans||63593084||4||27458049||10||432|
|13||Cheese of Whole Cow Milk||4764853||46||24670883||13||5178|
|15||Sugar Raw Centrifugal||33838303||6||22649899||15||669|
In his book, Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz claims that while the cacao trade expansion from indigenous cultures to one of a global network has provided not only increased access to foreign markets for cacao, it has also allowed for the rise in trade of other commodities such as sugar, wheat, and rum (43). Further, he says, that not only did it create new markets but it also provided for essential exchange of information and the sharing of new ideas across cultures. Additionally, this expansion allowed for new players to enter the game and to create a new revenue stream. As Maricel Presilla reports, in her book The New Taste of Chocolate, that in recent decades, with the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Vietnam’s government has worked to adapt the fields to grow cacao after the failure of coffee as a cash crop (120).
However, along with massive cacao production for international markets, came trade-offs that weighed heavily on the success of cacao production.
Whereas the temperamental cacao loves to have its feet in wet soil and its roots shaded by debris-mostly for the benefits of the pollinating midge population-the corporate plantations are streamlined and debris free. These practices, while aesthetically appealing, have contributed to crop failure which are today at record levels, asserts chocolate researcher, Michael Coe, in his book The True History of Chocolate (21). Additionally, the drive to capitalize on massive production and international networks has promoted an increased focus on quantity and a decreased focus on quality. Where formerly there was an overall production balance between high-quality Criollo and lower quality Forestero, today’s cacao farms produce mostly low quality beans. In Trinidad, for example, 95% of what is produced is low-bulk beans, and only roughly 5% are of the highest quality “Arriba” bean (Presilla 123).
The following is an example of current cacao diseases that exist largely on corporate plantations, compliments of The American Phytopathological Society:
|(tons x 1000)||($ million)*|
|Black Pod||Phytophthora spp.||Africa/Brazil/ Asia||450||423|
|Witches’ Broom||Crinipellis perniciosa||Latin America||250||235|
|Frosty Pod Rot||Moniliophthora roreri||Latin America||30||47|
|Vascular- streak dieback||Oncobasidium theobromae||Asia||30||28|
Quality aside, the indigenous populations have also suffered under massive change. Forced to make changes within their own cultures that were not easy or welcome, millions rebelled and either died from abhorrent living conditions or were killed by the enslavers (Martin 4). Not only were these populations forced into changing small farming methods, and to plant foreign crops; but they were also forced into laboring for low wages or worse yet, under slavery. No longer were they able to provide their own families with food, but they were forced to pay for imported goods from the sponsoring country (Coe 13)… and exploitation of people, land, and cultures, became the norm as cross-cultural hybridization took place (Presilla 118-123).
Moreover, the international trade routes were built around the three-way trade system, carrying what Mintz calls the “false commodity” (43) of human slaves. This entrenchment of cacao in slavery has left a bitter note in history and even today invokes strong passion as information surfaces about modern day slavery practice. Carol Off, in her book “Bitter Chocolate” discusses how the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) experiences high levels of corruption and child enslavement, with “farmers paying groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their groves” (121). Michael Coe agrees, saying as recent as the year 2000, “several million African children, many of whom have been abducted from neighboring countries work under terrible conditions” (264).
Thus, despite the improvements in trade and the massive wealth obtained, evidence shows that there are hefty consequences paid by many and that the human rights violations and other exploitation in the name of cacao, continues.
Video on current child-slave-labor crimes, compliments of BBC World News.
American Phytopathological Society: Chart of Cacao Diseases. 2001. Web. 12 Mar 2015.
“Cocoa Farms Still Using Child Labour.” BBC World News. On.aol.com. 10 Nov 2011. Web.12 Mar 2015.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print. Confectionery News. Ferrero Makes Fair Trade Cacao Commitment after Rule Change. Image. 10 mar 2014. Web.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Faostat.fao.org. 2011. 11 Mar 2015.
International Cocoa Org. Market Review. Jan 2015. http://www.icco.org/statistics/monthly-review-of-the-market.html. Website. PDF.
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 04 Mar. 2015.Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28. Jan. 2015. Class Lecture.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.
Thuey, Tuang. “Cargill Expanding Vietnam Feed, Cocoa.” Vietnambreakingnews.com. 10 May 2014. Web. 10 Mar 2015.
*****POST COPIED WITH PERMISSION, FROM MY OWN WORK ON HARVARD UNIVERSITY BLOG: WWW.CHOCOLATECLASS.WORDPRESS.COM RUN BY DR. CARLA MARTIN, PROFESSOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM AND CHOCOLATE HISTORIAN EXPERT*******