Choco-lypse And The Looming Chocolate Revolution

Enjoy that chocolate this Halloween because in the next five years, we could be facing a major shortage. Cocoa farmers, who grow all of the cocoa beans for the world's chocolate, aren't paid fairly and are ditching the crop. Global cocoa production has actually declined since 2011.
10/10/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2014

Enjoy that chocolate this Halloween because in the next five years, we could be facing a major shortage. Cocoa farmers, who grow all of the cocoa beans for the world's chocolate, aren't paid fairly and are ditching the crop. Global cocoa production has actually declined since 2011.

Here are the three most important things chocolate lovers need to know about why their favorite sweet is in peril:

  1. Smallholder cocoa farmers are underpaid and impoverished: Ninety percent of the world's cocoa is produced by five million smallholder farmers in West Africa, Latin America, and Asia. These farmers are getting minimal pay, with the majority of cocoa farmers globally living on less than $2 per day. Farmer poverty is widespread, while big manufacturers are capturing the vast majority of profits from the nearly $100 billion global chocolate industry.

  • Demand for cocoa is growing, but farmer income isn't improving:
    An estimated 3.5 million tonnes of cocoa (or cacao) are produced every year. That demand is expected to grow over 30% in the next five years as countries like China, India, and Brazil start eating more chocolate. The majority of farmers are unlikely to see the benefit of this growing market. In fact, many farmers have given up on cocoa and switched to other more lucrative, often environmentally destructive crops like oil palm. The average age of a cocoa farmer in West Africa, which produces about 70% of the world's cocoa, is 51 -- which means farmers' kids are abandoning the crop. So unless you're paying more for your chocolate bar and know where your chocolate maker is sourcing their cocoa, unfortunately you're probably just feeding (and eating) the problem.
  • Reliance on Fair Trade labels and other certifications to solve these problems hasn't worked, and won't: The root cause of cocoa farmer poverty is that the price farmers receive does not cover their cost of production. Farmers, lacking resources to invest in increasing their cocoa yields, are locked in a cycle of poverty. Certification schemes work by adding a premium for farmer cooperatives onto the global commodity market price, but the certifications are expensive to obtain and in some cases the extra income from selling certified cocoa may not even cover the costs of certification. The premiums go into a bank account managed by the farmer cooperative for social projects, not into farmers' pockets. The impact of these premiums on driving improvement in livelihoods at scale has not been proven, and does not directly address or solve the root cause of cocoa farmer poverty.
  • But it isn't all bad news: We are at the beginning of a chocolate revolution.

    There is a new chocolate movement going on as we speak, with at least 50 new chocolate makers in the U.S. popping up over the last three years. Like microbrew beers and specialty coffee roasters, we are similarly at the beginning of a chocolate revolution. In fact, there's probably a new small-scale chocolate maker in your city or state -- there are more than 10 in Hawaii, which is the only state in the U.S. with a cocoa industry

    Current cocoa demand in this new market is estimated at a relatively small but quickly growing 7,000 tonnes around the world. However, chocolate makers still have trouble finding cocoa with the right quality, social impact, and consistent supply to satisfy their customers because of those top three problems we mentioned earlier.

    The great news? These new chocolate makers - and their consumers - want cocoa farmers to get a fair price for their work, and they are willing to cut their own profits in order to pay for it.

    Our social enterprise, Maya Mountain Cacao, is connecting a community of indigenous Maya in rural, southern Belize with American cocoa scientists from Hawaii to solve this problem.

    Maya Mountain Cacao connects over 300 small organic cocoa farmers to the fine chocolate industry through direct, transparent relationships. Farmers participating in this model are getting a stable price of more than 100% of the world market price paid directly to them the same day they harvest. This creates real incentives for farmers to grow production of this valuable crop and drives reforestation of previously cleared jungle, while delivering premium quality cocoa to some of the world's best new chocolate makers.

    This new model is driving real results for farmers and their families. Incomes have grown over 20% since 2012, and school attendance for farmers' children has increased 85%. Farmers are planting over 80,000 more cocoa trees this year to help fulfill market demand for their tasty, organic cocoa beans.

    Chocolate makers love it too. Demand for Belize's organic cocoa has grown exponentially; especially considering the country was not even on the map for U.S. chocolate makers before Maya Mountain Cacao started operations in 2010. Today, 7 chocolate makers currently buy cocoa from Belize, with 75+ on the waitlist.

    As is the case for cocoa farmers globally, unless we support and invest in farmers, we won't be able to grow cocoa production.

    Maya Mountain Cacao is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $40,000 to finish developing an organic, 120-acre Demonstration Farm. The land will be protected from slash and burn farming through cocoa-based organic agroforestry and will serve as an educational hub for the local farming community and for international cocoa growers. Above all, it will provide an enormous source of pride and income for the indigenous Maya community who have tapped into the modern chocolate market in a way that respects their ancient tradition of cocoa growing. The rewards for backers are delicious and completely guilt-free, just in time for Halloween.