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New Agriculturist: Book reviews - Chocolate nations - Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa
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Chocolate nations - Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa

Chocolate nations

By Orla Ryan
Published by Zed Books
Website: www.zedbooks.co.uk
2010, 182pp, ISBN 978 1 84813 005 0(Pb) £12.99

Focussing on the recent history of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Chocolate nations traces how the fortunes of these two countries have been founded on just one crop, cocoa. "The production of these beans is written into the political and economic history of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire," writes Orla Ryan, who lived in Ghana for two years while reporting for Reuters. In particular, she is fascinated and shocked by how the industry of peasant farmers has been ruthlessly exploited to finance post-Independence development, frequently seeing the fruits of their hard labours devoted either to bettering the lives of urban elites or squandered at the whim of their rulers.

Despite its origin in Latin America and early production in the Caribbean, two thirds of chocolate now comes from Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. The expansion of the crop from its introduction in the late 19th century was unprecedented, growing from 77,000 metric tonnes in 1895 to 500,000 tonnes in 1925. Yet, although cocoa accounted for 68 per cent of exports from Ghana in 1955, the price paid to farmers was reduced by Kwame Nkrumah to fund grandiose projects costing millions. Even in 1977, farmers were receiving only £347 per tonne at a time when world prices were over £3,000 per tonne. Under Houphouet Boigny, Cote d'Ivoire's cocoa producers fared far better but Boigny's encouragement of immigrants to settle in the cocoa lands and expand production sowed the seeds of the country's present crisis.

With chapters covering fair-trade, child labour and the processing of cocoa from bean to bar, Chocolate nations presents the tragic and shocking detail behind the world's favourite confection. Whether chocolate continues to tempt consumers' sweet teeth will depend on the price and justice offered to growers in the future. Chocolate nations is a unique case history of one crop and two countries but touches on much that demands reordering in agricultural production, marketing and exports globally.

Date published: February 2011


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