The Chocolatey State of Cacao

After reaching out to an international expert in the cacao industry, with experience in Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Israel, and Ethiopia, we received the following exposé on global cacao production. A fascinating insight into such a common and delectable plant we thought our followers might enjoy!

Even a brief expose on cacao could become a book, but let me hit a few highlights.

There are three principal cacao production zones in the world: 1) West Africa; 2) Southeast Asia; and 3) Latin & South America. Côte d’Ivoire is the number one producer, followed by Ghana and Indonesia. There is also a small area of cacao produced in Northern Queensland.

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Each production area has its specific challenges. In West Africa cocoa swollen shoot virus is a major disease. In Southeast Asia cocoa pod borer is a major pest. In South and Latin America witch’s broom and frosty pod are major pests. Every production area has problems with black pod, a disease caused by Phythophthera spp.

I hope that I haven’t confused too many people by switching between cacao and cocoa. If we are precise, cacao refers to the tree and cocoa refers one of the products of cacao processing. In most areas, people use the two terms interchangeably, but I generally refer to cacao unless referring to a named disease or pest or when talking with growers who prefer to use cocoa.

An interesting development over the past 15 to 20 years is the adoption of modern agricultural practices by cocoa growers, particularly in South America. These modern production practices include irrigation, delivery of fertilizers through an irrigation system, mechanization, and pruning to maintain shorter trees. The result is that farmers in South America produce 2 to 3 t/ha, whereas farmers in West Africa and SE Asia generally produce 300 to 800 kg/ha.

cocoa_beans_world_production
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For the past several hundred years, chocolate manufacturers have not paid much attention to the countries that produce cacao. They have been content to purchase beans or processed cocoa products that are available on the market. Recently, however, there have been forecasts showing that the supply of cacao beans will not meet demand in the coming decades. As a result, many chocolate manufacturers have either initiated projects to assist cacao farmers or have attempted to grow their own cacao. There are also many investment groups that have started to buy cacao farms in anticipation that they will be more profitable if demand continues to increase as forecast.

All in all, the cacao world is in a state of flux. Chocolate manufacturers are supporting efforts to find solutions to the major pests and diseases as well as how to improve general production of cacao. High marking prices for cacao beans limit the amount that chocolate manufactures can invest in research and most cacao producing countries consider cacao as a source of revenue not an investment opportunity. How these opposing forces will balance over the coming years is hard to predict, but one thing I can predict is that people will still want to eat chocolate.