To most people, chocolate is an indulgent treat to be enjoyed after a long day or during a movie, but for millions of workers producing the product, it's produced through a system of systematic poverty. Off the Ivory Coast, children often fall into the hands of people looking to exploit them for cheap labour, with their parents sending them away to earn money or learn a trade. In a New York Times investigation, however, they found that much of the time it's poverty-stricken adults working in these places, not children.
Fairtrade International recently released a new research report, revealing that the average income for a cocoa farming household is only $2,707 per year, which is dangerously close to the poverty level of $2,276. Only seven percent of these households make a living income, but farmers rely on cocoa for up to 74 percent of their income, selling products and working other jobs to make the rest. The scary fact is that if farmers were to triple the amount they grow, that would still not be enough to escape the cycle of poverty and earn a livable income.
For a better future where chocolate still exists, work needs to be done so that chocolate can be beneficial to everybody involved in the process — from farmers overseas, to people processing it in plants and those who package and deliver it.
Estimates peg the amount of chocolate someone in the US eats at 11 pounds per year, or 2.8 billion in total, which goes to show the sheer volume of chocolate that is produced by farmers.
The research in was included as the backbone of the Cocoa Barometer, a publication that illustrates just how big cocoa-related issues are: more than 2.1 million children are working in cocoa fields on the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The average age of workers in Ghana, the second biggest producer of cocoa, is 52 because most younger people aren't interested in farming.
For millions of farmers, there's no other choice to grow anything other than cocoa. They cannot find anything with a stable yield which will provide them with a sense of crop security, and with the chocolate industry expanding, there's more and more need for the product.
A main issue farmers face is a lack of diversity in their crops, with a cocoa farm on the Ivory Coast getting only half of what they could yield with proper training and tools. Splitting up the crops that these people depend on helps them depend less on one crop in case it fails to grow or the market falls. It doesn't help that the price of cocoa has been dropping drastically for the last few years as a result of industry expansion and proper payments.
To ensure farmers are able to make a wage that they can depend on, we need to become willing to pay more to ensure this. Fairtrade chocolate products generally ensure that everybody involved in the process of producing the product is adequately compensated, but without this sort of product becoming more mainstream, the farmers depending on our purchases will remain in the same situation.