Cocoa: facts worth knowing
Learn more about the complex world of cocoa and about cocoa commitment.
Where does cocoa grow?
Due to climatic conditions, cocoa can only be grown in a “chocolate belt” of tropical countries along the equator. About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa harvest comes from the West African countries Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, also known as Ivory Coast.
How is cocoa cultivated?
Cocoa is a demanding agricultural product to farm. Cocoa trees don’t bear fruit until they are five to seven years old, and depending on the farming situation, the yield declines after around 17 years. For this reason, old cocoa trees are continuously felled—the wood is mainly used as firewood—and new trees are planted in their place. Good farms are complex ecosystems with many plant and animal species; for example, cocoa trees need larger neighboring trees like umbrella thorn acacias for shade and as natural fertilizer producers, as well as insects for pollination. The simultaneous cultivation of crops such as lemons, avocados, ginger, yams, or cassava is also beneficial for nature and the farms. This farming method is called agroforestry. It is the sustainable alternative to monoculture farming.
From 600 to 1,100 cocoa trees can grow on one hectare of land. Farms are typically between one and four hectares in size. Because the trees bear buds, blossoms, and fruit all at the same time, farmers have to keep a constant eye on them. With a few thousand trees, this is a lot of work.
How important is cocoa farming?
Cocoa is essential to countries in West Africa, responsible for a large part of their foreign exchange revenue. For example, cocoa still accounts for more than one-third of Ghana’s total export revenue, and 40 percent in the case of Côte d’Ivoire. Because of their dependence on this single commodity, the economies of these countries are very sensitive to fluctuations in cocoa harvests and the demand for cocoa on the world market.
How is cocoa harvested?
The 20 to 40 cocoa pods per tree ripen right on the three- to eight-meter-high trunk. When the pods change color, from yellow to red and then purple, it means they are ripe. They are then removed from the trunk with a machete—which can be dangerous—a picking knife, or garden shears. Because the pods on a single tree ripen at different times, there is a main and a secondary harvest season. In West Africa, the main harvest season is from October to March, and the secondary harvest takes place from May to August.
What happens after the cocoa is harvested?
The cocoa fruit continues to ripen on the ground for a few days. The pods are then broken in two to extract the 25 to 50 cocoa beans along with the white fruit pulp. The cocoa beans and the pulp are put in fermentation containers, which are often large wooden boxes. In the traditional processing method, this mass is covered with banana leaves. The cocoa beans and pulp then ferment for five to seven days, during which the pulp separates from the beans and decomposes. The cocoa beans now have a light crimson color, and the first cocoa flavor begins to develop. The flavor continues to develop during the subsequent careful drying phase.
As with coffee, the full flavor of the cocoa is only obtained after roasting.
Which cocoa varieties are particularly important?
The most important cocoa plant species are Forastero, Criollo, and the Forastero-Criollo cross, Trinitario. About 80 percent of the world’s cocoa crop comes from Forastero plants. These plants are high-yielding and relatively resistant to disease and pests. Compared to the Forastero, the Criollo plant has a lower yield and is more labor-intensive and more susceptible to disease. However, the cocoa obtained from it is considered to be of very high quality and especially aromatic. The Trinitario plant is found especially in South and Central America.
What is a cocoa seal?
A cocoa seal is part of a sustainability program or certification program for cocoa. A cocoa seal on the packaging identifies products in which part or all of the cocoa used is certified. Depending on the system, either the cocoa physically contained in the product is traceable back to the farm, or the amount of certified cocoa required by the cocoa seal is allocated by means of certificates. Cocoa commitment takes a middle path: The journey of the raw cocoa is completely traceable, from the farms to the KRÜGER GROUP’s own cocoa-processing factory in Germany. In the production of semifinished cocoa products such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and cocoa mass, raw cocoa from various sources is mixed.
Important and well-known certification programs for cocoa include, for example, the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade. Cocoa commitment cocoa is always certified in accordance with either the Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade, but is also subject to cocoa commitment’s own additional program criteria. As a seal exclusively for cocoa, cocoa commitment is specifically dedicated and fully attuned to the challenges of cocoa farming, with a focus on West African growing countries. With experts on-site, additional locally coordinated measures can be implemented even on short notice.
Products that bear the cocoa commitment seal are manufactured in part with cocoa grown from the cocoa commitment sustainability program. The cocoa from the program is certified by the Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade, and additionally fulfills the sustainability measures of cocoa commitment.
What does sustainable cocoa farming mean?
Sustainable cocoa farming means that the cocoa is cultivated in a manner that is ecologically sound and doesn’t exploit the growers. Sustainability programs such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade exist to ensure this. Their basic programs differ in criteria such as their requirements, monitoring, and auditing instruments, or in their purchasing-price agreements.
Cocoa commitment builds on these programs in order to promote and monitor sustainable cocoa farming and increase demand for sustainable cocoa through the development of further criteria and measures.
What is Good Agricultural Practice (GAP)?
Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) is the term used to describe the regional standards in agriculture, based on current knowledge of ecology and economics, that responsible farmers apply. For cocoa, this means using quality plants, selecting and planting the appropriate shade plants, maintaining and improving soil fertility, controlling weeds and pests in an environmentally friendly manner, and restoring cultivated land to a good condition after the harvest. The farmers are taught about these topics. This includes the transfer of knowledge on cultivation methods in order to be prepared for the effects of climate change.
Are there rainforest protection projects that promote sustainable cocoa farming?
A rainforest protection project primarily promotes the protection of remaining rainforests. However, this topic involves much more, such as the question: How can lands that have lost their rainforests and primeval forests through clear-cutting be restored? A good sustainability program for cocoa farming is therefore complex and generally includes rainforest protection: it supports farmers in achieving success within their existing growing areas, thereby protecting the rainforest. As part of cocoa commitment, even existing cocoa cultivation areas are being reforested, that is, converted from monoculture farming to sustainable agroforestry. This makes the farmland richer in nutrients and thus more fertile, which leads to increased biodiversity and farm productivity. Cocoa commitment promotes the reforestation of abandoned farmland as well—areas that hardly anyone is interested in. Cocoa is grown for extended periods on land that was once primeval forest, until the soil is depleted. The land is then abandoned. But instead of a full, healthy forest, all that grows here is scrub, which lacks biodiversity and climate resilience. Cocoa commitment supports reforestation programs for such forgotten areas that are neither used for agriculture nor located in nature reserves.
How are cocoa beans processed?
Many processing steps are necessary in turning cocoa beans into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
- The cocoa beans are delivered.
- They are pre-cleaned to remove foreign material such as small stones.
- The beans are broken and the resulting cocoa nibs are removed from the shell and then sterilized and alkalized. Alkalizing is necessary for cocoa powder production, as it gives the cocoa powder its typical color and a milder taste.
- The cocoa nibs are roasted, lending them their characteristic, subtle cocoa aroma.
- They are then ground into cocoa mass.
- The cocoa mass is put in tanks for storage.
- For the final cocoa powder product, a portion of the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa mass. This produces an oil cake, which is then ground into cocoa powder. Depending on the residual cocoa butter content, the cocoa powder is designated as, for example, lightly or heavily de-oiled.
- After the grinding process, the cocoa powder is stabilized and packaged.
- The remaining cocoa butter is filtered and deodorized. It provides the basis for chocolate and other products.
This post is also available in: German