Captivating Cocoa Facts

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Just a few cocoa production facts for your edification. No long boring lists. A quick look at where, who, and what they do.

Chocolate facts and figures about cacao, farmers and by-products.

Lots of people doing lots of work so you can enjoy lots of chocolate.

You know what they do with the beans.

But what do they do with all those left over pods and pulp?

Stop losing sleep wondering.  Read on! 


Where does the story begin? Well, the chocolate tree or theobroma cacao cropped up in the Amazon valley millions of years ago.

For at least 3,500 years people have been enjoying its fruit.

Seems once humans got a taste, they couldn't get enough. First the peoples of the Americas adored it, then the Spanish and now the world.

It's a demanding crop that requires a tropical climate. It only grows in areas that are within 10 degrees north or 10 degrees south of the equator.

That would include parts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central America, and South America.

View Cocoa Production in a larger map

And Hawaii, USA. It's the only state that can grow the stuff.

But most cacao production takes place in West Africa. A whopping 70% of the crop comes from there. The Côte d’Ivoire is by far the largest producer with Ghana a distant second.

Interestingly Mexico, the country that introduced the world to cacao, produces only 1.5 % of the world's crop.

Future Shortage?

Worldwide over 3 million tons are produced each year, weather and pests permitting. In the last century, the craving for it has grown about 3 percent per year.

The popularity of dark chocolate with its health benefits and the burgeoning Asian market are sure to increase the demand.

But will the supply be able to keep up?

Don't worry chocolate lovers. Institutions like the International Cocoa Organization are working with farmers and the chocolate industry.

They're attempting to create a sustainable world cocoa economy.

What does that mean? Help farmers to produce a quality crop, protect the environment and earn a fair price.

That way the cacao beans keep flowing, the demand keeps growing, the farmers keep reaping so there's no weeping.

Billions love it but more than 40 million people count on it for a living.

The Farmers

Ever wonder how many farmers it takes to satisfy the demand for cacao? An estimated 5 to 6 million, about half live in West Africa.

It takes lots of farmers working small plots of land. Ninety percent of the crop is produced on family farms averaging less than 15 acres.

The farming is labor intensive and the income is low. So the kids have to help their parents. But not all children working on the farms are members of the family.

Concerns over children being sold into slavery led to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. It called for an end to abusive child labor.

Many hands are needed to harvest it. Pods have to be cut down with a machete or a large blade on a long handle.

Then skilled hands split the pods in two with a club or machete and scoop out the sticky beans.

Next the beans and pulp are heaped together or placed in a box and covered with banana leaves to ferment.

Then the farmer spreads the beans out in the sun to dry. They're raked every few days. Finally the cocoa beans are gathered up and bagged.

The bags of beans are then shipped all over the world.


What do the farmers do with those piles of pods, buckets of pulp juice and waste beans? Well, they can be recycled.

The pods can be...

  • put back into the forest to fertilize the cacao trees and provide a hatchery for the midges that pollinate the flowers
  • made into animal feed
  • turned into potash and used for fertilizer and soap

The bean shells make a great mulch for your garden.

The fresh juice has several uses...

  • hard drinks like wine and brandy
  • soft drinks
  • vinegar
  • pectin for jam and jelly making

Bad beans and shells are a source of theobromine.

Fresh beans provide cocoa butter and press cake. The cake is used as fertilizer and in industry.

This bean requires lots of hard working people. Next time you enjoy some healthy dark chocolate, you might want to think of them. Show you care. Buy more bittersweet.

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