Connoisseur Chocolate from the South Gets a Higher Price

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Like coffee beans, cocoa beans are grown around the world and are a major commodity, highly prized in wealthy countries. West Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world’s output, with the rest grown either in Indonesia and Brazil (20 percent), or on a smaller scale in countries across the South, from Belize to Madagascar.

Global sales of cocoa beans have grown by an average of 3.7 percent a year since 2001, and the World Cocoa Foundation estimates 40-50 million people depend on cocoa for their livelihood.

But harvesting cocoa comes at a price to the farmers and those who work on the farms. It is estimated that 284,000 children in West Africa work under abusive conditions to harvest the beans. Cocoa farmers usually only benefit from the price of cocoa in the harvest season between October and February. In Ghana, the second largest producer of beans, child slavery allegations have plagued the cocoa plantations, along with too-low prices paid to farmers. Fluctuating global market prices constantly put small-scale farmers at risk of losing everything they have worked for.

But consumers are developing ever-more sophisticated tastes for chocolate, paying more attention to the quality and origin of the beans. Savvy cocoa producers are using this greater awareness to increase prices for farmers and improve conditions for those who work on the farms.

Maturing consumers’ palates are now picking chocolate and other food products from the South in much the same way as connoisseurs pick wines. In the United Kingdom alone, sales of Fairtrade-branded goods ( a scheme that offers guaranteed prices and better trading conditions to farmers – have reached £560 million (US$1.1 billion) a year. A survey of consumers in six countries found awareness of fairly traded chocolate was highest in the UK, with 43 percent of people having tried it (

British consumers willing to pay more for ethical products are at the forefront of a global surge in fair trade. Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer with Belgian chocolate makers Barry Callebaut, told The Independent newspaper: “Nowadays, chocolate consumption is coming to resemble the way we enjoy wine: we sample and compare different tastes.”

The world’s appetite for chocolate is voracious: For example by 2007, volume sales of chocolate confectionery increased from 1998 by 30 percent in Eastern Europe, and by 40 percent in the Asia Pacific region. Europeans devour 35 percent of the world’s cocoa.

In order to be classed as Fair Trade, a producer must meet a strict set of criteria governing how people and the environment are treated. The Fair Trade scheme pays farmers a higher price for cocoa beans, calculated on the basis of world market prices, plus fair trade premiums. The Fair Trade premium for standard quality cocoa is US$150 per tonne. The minimum price for Fair Trade standard quality cocoa, including the premium, is US$1,750 per tonne. Fair Trade ensures a minimum price of 80 US cents a pound under long-term contracts, with access to credit, and prohibits abusive child labour and forced labour.

At the Chuao Plantation in Venezuela, the local Chuao Empresa Campesina cooperative, representing 100 farmers, is reaping the benefits of developing an exclusive relationship with an Italian chocolate company. Chocolatier Alessio Tessieri was willing to pay a lot more for the beans if high standards were maintained. His sister Cecilia was struck by the aroma of the rare Criollo bean grown by the farmers: it is the least productive in terms of output, but prized for its flavour.

“We found an aroma that was greatly reminiscent of ripe red fruit and plum preserves, with an extremely delicate aftertaste,” she said. “A highly complex and sophisticated aroma lacking any trace of acidity.”

Located in Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, a road and sea trip from the capital Caracas, the town of Chuao, population 1,500, has ideal growing conditions because of its high humidity. In the village, the women take care of the drying process. Throughout the town the cocoa beans lay out in the open on verandas. In the warehouses the enormous “masorche” – the fruit of the cocoa trees, looking like big red melons – are split in half and the pulp is removed, revealing the super-sweet white-coated beans inside.

Alessio struck a good deal with the farmers in recognition of the exclusivity of the beans. He pays US$4 per kilogram against the US$1.30 per kilo paid by the local merchants. He also took on the farmers’ debts with the merchants. But most importantly, he ensured that one of his agronomists would stay behind and supervise the plantation and increase its production, from the current level of 120-130 kilos per hectare to a projected 250-300 kilos.

The Toledo Hills Cacao Cooperative in Belize, South America has developed a relationship with one of the UK’s pioneers in fair trade chocolate, Green & Blacks. The Mayan Indians who farm the cocoa live a traditional life more or less as they have done for centuries. They also live in one of the poorest areas of Belize. The profits made are ploughed back into buying machetes, or rubber boots to protect against snake bites. The cocoa harvest helps supplement their traditional way of life.

Green & Blacks has been buying organic cocoa from the farmers’ co-operative since 1994 and paying a guaranteed price above the world cocoa price. In 2003, they extended their activities with the cocoa farmers and started the Belize Programme to provide even more support. With an investment of £225,000 (US$443,350) over three years, the investment was used to help improve management and farming practices, rehabilitate hurricane-damaged crops, plant more cocoa trees, and train farmers in better growing methods. Green & Blacks continues to provide technical advice and support to the farmers. The business relationship with Green & Blacks has been so successful that other farmers in Belize are now interested in cocoa farming.

The pattern is being repeated elsewhere in Latin America. In San Martin, Peru, rice farmers have moved into cocoa to reap the rewards of the higher prices. Alvis Valles Sajami and Alberto Inou Amasifuen are both graduates of the Peru Farmer Field School. Sajami uses a plant nursery as an extra source of income by selling cocoa plants to other farmers. “I already have 4,000 plants, he said. “This (the nursery) will be so important to increase my cocoa area. I can sell planting material to other farmers in order to have a new source of income for my family.”

Amasifuen has already increased his own cocoa production from two hectares to five, and has also established a nursery to produce cocoa and timber tree seedlings to sell to area farmers.

“We have an increase in demand for cocoa plants in San Martín,” he said. “We expect to provide seedlings not only to our farm, but also to other farmers in expanding their production area.”


  • International Cocoa Organization, a good source of current data on the trade.
  • The Fairtrade Labelling Organization sets the standards for fair-trade and is the place to go to receive official certification.
  • The Max Havelaar Foundation offers a similar service and is popular in continental Europe.
  • The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) represents the organic farmers’ movement.
  • World Cocoa Federation was formed in 2000 to play a leading role in helping cocoa farming families by developing and managing effective, on-the-ground programs, raising funds and acting as a forum for broad discussion of the cocoa farming sector’s needs.

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