Cocoa comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, which is native to tropical America. It is a shortish tree that grows better with high humidity, rich soils and in the shade of other trees. Its fruits are called pods; they are about 30cm long and weigh some 500g. They grow directly from the trunk and older branches.
A single tree may render about 20 pods a year, starting at age of five until it is about 40 years old!
Cocoa pods contain about 50 cocoa beans which are quite fatty, consisting of up to 45% cocoa butter and a little of a caffeine-like substance called theobromine.
When ripe, cocoa pods are picked, opened and the beans are taken along with a white pulp that surrounds them. Meanwhile the husks and an inner white membrane are discarded. It takes about 10 pods to prepare 1 kg of chocolate.
Cocoa bean processing starts with a fermentation that lasts several days, which both eliminates the pulp and modifies the flavour, creating cleaner and less bitter beans. Once fermented, beans are dried, usually under the sun for several days more. Then the fermented and dried beans are washed, roasted (removing their husk before or after) and subsequently become nibs.
Cocoa nibs are ground into cocoa paste - sometimes called liquor. The cocoa paste can be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. This is where your favourite chocolate-based products are sourced.
According to the World Cocoa Foundation, about 50 million people around the world depend on cocoa for their livelihood.
Today, about 40% of world cocoa comes from Côte d'Ivoire, with neighbouring Ghana and Indonesia producing 15% respectively. Similar to other commodity crops like coffee, prices for cocoa beans are set by stockbrokers in London and New York, who artificially cause large variations on its price. As you may imagine, these price changes are not endured by the large transnationals who dominate the market but by the small-scale farmers at production stage. Unfortunately, after harvesting the pods, farmers may find that the income they receive does not even cover their production costs.
Thanks to fair trade, around 122,000 farmers from 62 producer organisations in 18 countries can now get a fair price for their goods. Around 8% of our lending goes into cocoa.
Find out how your investment could help organisations like Naranjillo push the boundaries of cocoa production for generations to come.