Sourcing chocolate is no easy task. Top-notch chocolatiers are traveling the world, looking for the best cocoa plantations that can produce exceptional beans for them to make chocolate with. They want to immerse themselves in the culture of the farmers, who live mainly around Africa and South America. Although traveling around the globe can be fun, it’s important to understand the chocolate farming process, what it means to source cocoa, and the type of living conditions the workers sustain daily.
The Cocoa Tree
Chocolate is rarely made in the same area that the cocoa plants can be found. The beans are produced in the third world countries that are 20 degrees to the north and south of the equator and then exported to countries in Europe and the United States.
Theobroma cacao, otherwise known as the cocoa tree, can only thrive in climates with good soil drainage and tropical rainfall, and it needs plenty of shade to keep the leaves from burning and the soil from baking. On their plantations, farmers have to create surroundings using other trees to help keep the theobroma in the shade. When it starts to grow, farmers plant small, leafy plants like yuca and coffee bushes or plantain and banana trees, and then when it is large enough to bare fruit (after four or five years), farmers then plant coconut palms and mahogany trees.
This environment attracts insects (mainly flies) that help with pollination, and the cocoa pods form four or five months later. A fully grown pod contains around 40 to 50 cocoa beans, and because they can range in color from green to pale yellow and dark purple to crimson, the farmers have to be experienced enough to know which pods are the best ones to pick. The theobromas can continue to grow pods for the remainder of their lives (about 100 years), but they are usually replaced before then.
Unfortunately, cocoa farmers often live in extreme poverty. Ghana and the Ivory Coast, both in West Africa, produce 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans, but the average farmers there make between 50 and 84 cents per day. The job is also a lot of work - the cocoa pods have to be hacked open with machetes or clubs, then cleaned, dried, and fermented before they can be ground up and processed. Luckily, many non-profits are taking action to make living conditions better for these workers. CocoaAction aims to help farmers get access to fertilizers and seedlings for new trees so that they can earn higher incomes, and WorldCocoaFarmers promotes gender equality on the plantations and fights against child and forced labor.
Chocolatiers who are visiting exotic countries to help with sourcing benefit from building relationships with the workers and doing their part to help create environmental sustainability and better working conditions.
There are many other foundations available besides the ones mentioned above. For another resource, you can visit http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/, which aims to resolve issues like deforestation.
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