A Shortage of cocoa beans has led to the near closure of processing plants in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two countries responsible 60% of global production. With chocolate makers around the world relying on West Africa for cocoa cultivation, there are major concerns about the impact on chocolate prices and farmers’ livelihoods. Cocoa researcher Michael Odijie explains the reasons for the shortage.

Why has cocoa production declined sharply in West Africa?

Three factors play a role: environment, economic cycle and people.

One environmental factor is the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has led to drier weather in West Africa. It has contributed to problems on farms, such as sprout disease. As a result, Ghana almost suffered crop failures 500,000 hectares country in recent years.

The economic cycle of cocoa production refers to the inherent patterns of expansion and contraction in cocoa farming. For example, as cacao trees grow older, they become susceptible to disease, requiring high maintenance costs. Historically, farmers have tended to abandon old farms and start over in fresh forests. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new forests. Perhaps the most serious problem of all is the lack of fair compensation for sustainable cocoa production

The human factor includes challenges such as illegal mining, which has affected numerous farms in Ghana. Sometimes farmers rent their land to illegal miners for money. These mining activities affect the quality of the land and make it unsuitable for cocoa farming.

The global market for chocolate and chocolate products is on the rise raise. It is expected to grow faster than 4% annually in the coming years. This growing demand for cocoa highlights the urgency of addressing the interconnected issues surrounding the industry’s sustainability.

Have West African governments intervened to help cocoa farmers?

In February 2024, the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), the regulator of the country’s cocoa sector, secured a World Bank loan $200 million to rehabilitate plantations affected by cocoa sprout virus. The board will take over disease-stricken farms, remove and replace affected cocoa trees, and nurture new plantings to fruiting stage before returning them to farmers.

This practice of Cocobod taking out loans to support farmers is a long-standing tradition in Ghana. For example, in 2018 Cocobod Used part a $600 million loan from the African Development Bank to rehabilitate aging and disease-affected plantations. And at the start of the current harvest season in October The producer price was increased: Farmers will be paid better, a move inevitable due to the rise in world prices. Ghana also founded Cocobod Task force to protect cocoa plantations from the harmful effects of mining. It has worked with police to curb cocoa smuggling into neighboring countries, particularly those with a stronger currency.

Relatively few measures have been taken in Côte d’Ivoire. It appears the government is still assessing the situation. But there were some Measures to curb cocoa smuggling as the shortage drives up prices in neighboring countries. Côte d’Ivoire benefits from numerous sustainability programs initiated by multinational corporations. The current shortage has accelerated these initiatives. Unfortunately, some of the programs do not share their data, making it difficult for academics to access and analyze their information.

African governments still need to address significant structural issues in their interventions.

How have cocoa farmers and the economies of cocoa producing countries been affected?

Although the increase in prices at the agricultural level may initially appear to be beneficial for farmers, the reality is not simple. A decline in production leads to fewer harvests on average, meaning farmers do not earn more overall. This problem is exacerbated by recent problems Economic challenges in West Africa, such as high inflation and currency devaluation, particularly in Ghana. These factors have resulted in farmers becoming poorer.

Another impact of the decline in production is a decline in local processing. Major African processors in Ivory Coast and Ghana have either ceased operations or reduced their processing capacity because they cannot afford to purchase beans. This likely means chocolate prices will rise worldwide. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the local production units that have emerged in recent years.

However, the bargaining power of cocoa-producing countries in West Africa appears to have increased. Now is an opportune time for these nations to unite and negotiate more favorable terms for their cocoa farmers.

Will chocolate manufacturers eventually turn to cocoa alternatives?

This is inevitable as continued cultivation of cocoa is not sustainable under current conditions. I don’t perceive this negatively; I hope it happens sooner rather than later. In fact, the rise of cocoa butter equivalents, cocoa extenders and artificial flavors (synthetic or nature-identical flavors that mimic the taste of chocolate without the need for cocoa) is already underway.

The German company Planet A Foods is a leader in this area. The company makes cocoa-free chocolate using technology to convert ingredients such as oats and sunflower seeds into substitutes for cocoa mass and butter.

Overall, this is beneficial for everyone. The demand for cocoa has increased resulted lead to massive deforestation and significant CO2 emissions, problems that are likely to worsen due to climate change. Furthermore, the drive to cultivate has led to various forms of labor abuse. Researching cocoa alternatives is certainly part of the solution.

Michael E. OdijieScientific Assistant, UCL

This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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