The Day The Beans Came Home
Around 70% of all the chocolate we eat is made from beans grown in West Africa - mostly Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. Cocoa is not indigenous to this area - it grows naturally in central America and was first cultivated and used for human consumption by the Olmec and Mayan peoples who lived in what is now Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. They ground the beans into a paste and made a drink, often flavoured with chilli and spices. It was only when people had the idea of adding sugar and milk to the mix, and the creamy cocoa butter to blend it all together, that chocolate as we now know it started to gain in popularity.
So how did we end up with 70% of all our cocoa being grown in West Africa? The answer is colonialism. When the French and British saw how much money could be made from this crop, it seemed obvious that they should start to grow it in the areas of the world where they had colonies - Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) for the British and Cote d'Ivoire for the French. They had a plentiful supply of cheap labour and land that they controlled, with the right tropical weather and soil conditions for cocoa to thrive. Cocoa pods are so vital to the Ghanaian economy that they feature on bank notes and coins, but the average cocoa farmer earns just 74p a day, when it's calculated that a living wage would be around £2.30.
The average cocoa farmer in West Africa is 50. It's hard work, for very little reward. Children of cocoa farmers are becoming more and more educated and don't see a future for themselves in cocoa farming, partly because of the long hours and poverty pay. Cocoa farmers cultivate and harvest cocoa pods, dry the beans and bag them up for export often without ever tasting the delicious chocolate that results from their labours. They don't see the crops as belonging to them - it belongs to the buyers. Multinational corporations make billions from the chocolate trade - the global chocolate industry was worth an estimated $106 billion in 2021.
But while traditional West African recipes don't contain cocoa there are some chocolate makers in West Africa, using locally grown cocoa beans and sugar to create chocolate. We are working with one of these, Dekocraft based in Accra. They currently deliver chocolate making workshops to children and adults from the affluent areas of Accra, and they plan to train teachers in the impoverished cocoa growing areas to deliver these workshops as part of the general curriculum.
The idea is to give a sense of pride and ownership to the girls who grow up around cocoa farms, to help them see a future in chocolate, and to understand the nutritional potential of using cocoa in their cooking and as a breakfast drink.
We are piloting this project in the Tarkwa Breman Girls School which is funded by Cocoa360. Most of the girls who attend this school are the children of cocoa farmers who rarely get to taste chocolate. We will set up a dedicated permanent chocolate making workshop at the school including enough equipment for twelve children at a time to learn how to turn the beans their parents grow into chocolate. This includes training for six teachers, who will be able to deliver the workshops to all the children in the school for many years to come.
The pilot project will cost £10,000 in total to set up, which we are crowdfunding. Once we have successfully piloted the project, we will be able to go to larger funding bodies and work on a plan to make it self-sustaining.
For more details check out the crowdfunding page: