For a contrast I thought I’d now mention a South American producer. Despite their first forays into cocoa production, they’re not such prolific growers these days. Venezuela isn’t even the biggest South American producer (that accolade goes to Brazil) but I chose this country, as it’s renowned for its extremely high quality cocoa.
Venezuela did, at one time, claim the title of the world’s biggest cocoa producer but that was way back in the seventeenth century and a lot has changed since then. The beans grown are the Criollo variety and these are said to be the finest in the world. This makes Venezuelan cocoa extremely sought after by prestigious chocalatiers creating fine chocolate products.
It’s the South American countries generally that specialize in growing this variety and, as it’s not so easy to cultivate as other varieties it tends to be grown with less abundance. As there is a finite stock of beans in Venezuela, producers will often sell an entire harvest to one chocolatier directly, saving the hassle and price of going through a middle man. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of buyers, as the quality tends to speak for itself.
There has also been something of an organic revolution in Venezuela of late with a number of farmers opting to grow their trees organically. These beans can command a far higher price and, again, this appeals to the more high-end chocolatiers with an upmarket clientele. Now I love a good bar of chocolate but when desperation calls, I’m just as happy with a cheap brand from the corner shop as a box of handmade chocs!
Well I thought it was about time that we took a closer look at some of the biggest chocolate producing countries. As Ghana produces somewhere in the region of one-quarter of the world’s cocoa beans, I figured this would be a good place to start. Cocoa is an extremely important part of the country’s economy and it has been grown here since the mid 1900s.
Ghana was at one time the world leader in terms of cocoa production but it was hit by a dramatic drop in prices on the world market in the 1970s. This forced many producers to abandon cocoa production altogether in favor of more lucrative crops. However, as prices stabilized and production was encourage, people have been tempted back to the wonderful cocoa tree and the country is back up to the top of world production.
One of the reasons for the success of Ghana in the cocoa production stakes is probably the fact that it produces some top-quality cocoa beans. Most of this is exported to other countries and made into chocolate. In fact, much of the cocoa produced around the world is grown for export: the countries that make the most chocolate don’t actually grow the trees themselves, as they don’t have the right climate.
As with other African cocoa producers, most of the cocoa beans grown in Ghana are from smallholdings. There are somewhere in the region of two million cocoa farms in Ghana, which sounds like an incredible number but when you consider that most of them only produce a relatively small amount, it makes sense. Many farmers are at the mercy of fluctuating world prices and this can have a dramatic impact on their livelihood from one year to the next.