Not so sweet

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

The rush for land has escalated the last decade, with Sub-Saharan Africa as the most targeted. Governments, local elites and foreign corporations are increasingly taking control over large areas of agricultural lands with the aim of creating higher financial returns.  Consequentially indigenous communities have Their traditional livelihoods, based mainly on cultivation rotation, fishing and hunting, have been threatened by several impacts from the land grabs and exploitation. been deeply affected. Cocoa was originally brought to Western Africa by European chocolate companies seeking to grow it where labor was cheap, and that colonial legacy exists in the chocolate industry today.  In fact, the cocoa market is worth a fortune, but most of the profits end up in the hands of the large foreign confectionery multinationals that control the chocolate trade. Over 60% of cocoa produced globally originates from West Africa, with Ghana recognised as one of the world’s largest producers, second only to Côte d’Ivoire. The contribution of the cocoa industry to the Ghanaian economy is significant, employing approximately 850,000 farm families and generating about 800,000 tons of cocoa every year. The pandemic has driven down cocoa prices and further reduced farmers’ profit margins. In Ghana, cocoa farmers earn around 2,000 dollars for the entire harvest season (6 months) which is less than 6 dollars a day over the entire year. On a 100 gram bar of chocolate, whose average cost is 3.5 dollars, the Ghanaian farmer still costs 0.15 cents today. As a result, farming families often resort to the use of child labor as a means of subsistence for the whole family. In addition to the risks associated with using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa plantations. Tropical regions like Ghana consistently choose to tackle prolific insect populations by spraying the pods with large amounts of dangerous chemicals, such as glyphosate. For them there are exhausting shifts, cassava and bananas as the only nourishment, no health precautions, outdoor beds and obviously no school. Finally, the production of cocoa poses serious environmental problems, a large part of the crops come from plots cultivated illegally, portions of forest that are theoretically protected and which instead have been purposely deforested. With the increase in chocolate consumption, mainly driven by Europe, where the average per capita is 8 kg per year, a Ghanaian farmer is required to open about 500 beans a day, or about half a kilo of cocoa. An ever-growing turnover that reached 100 billion dollars globally in 2022. Like other raw materials, at the base of the production chain, cocoa is associated with poverty; the finished product to luxury. Between these two worlds are the multinationals that share the market: the American Cargill, the Singaporean Olam, the Swiss Barry-Callebaut (Saco) and the French Touton and Sudeen. It is a story that repeats itself and which tells how modernity and archaic situations, consumer rights and peasant semi-slavery coexist in globalization. (Text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga).