Meet the cocoa farmers who have never tasted chocolate

In Ghana - the world’s second-largest cocoa bean producer - farmers who’ve spent their entire lives on cocoa farms have never tasted chocolate.

Instead, their life’s work is exported to industrialised nations, such as the United Kingdom and South Africa, where cocoa beans are ground, mixed with sugar and made into chocolate.

Once the cocoa beans leave the farmer’s hands, that farmer never sees them again, nor the brown gold they produce - so loved the world over. Despite accounting for up to 30% of Ghana’s economy, most cocoa farmers today still live in poverty.

Jephthah Mensah from Cocoa Life - a local cocoa farmer upliftment programme funded by confectionery multinational Mondelez - says the typical cocoa farmer can expect to earn roughly 300 Ghanian cedis, or R830, every two months after input costs.

They, therefore, earn about half of the global poverty line of $1.90 a day, or roughly R1 600 every two months before costs.

Cocoa beans being spread to dry in the afternoon s

Cocoa beans spread out to dry in the afternoon sun in the village of Mpaem, Ghana (supplied). 

Mondelez International, the producer of Cadbury chocolate in South Africa, plans to invest $400 million in Cocoa Life between 2012 and 2022 - 3.9% of its overall gross profit of $10.1 billion in 2017.

The initiative, marketed as a means to improve the lives of cocoa farmers, has its roots in a Cadbury-funded study which recommended community interventions after cocoa production dropped to 40% of possible yield in 2008. 

In November, during a visit by Mondelez South Africa representatives to the rural community of Mpaem - a roughly three-hour drive from Ghana’s capital city Accra - the foreigners gifted chocolates to cocoa farmers who typically farm on less than two hectares.

The locals fetched machetes as they struggled to remove the chocolates’ resealable "peel me" packaging - a group effort to open a single chocolate bar.

Agustina Zomelo, a 70-year-old who’s farmed cocoa all her life, smiled as she sucked the caramel chocolate from its enclosure. This was the first chocolate she had ever tasted.

"I’ve always wondered what they do with our beans, and now I finally know," she said as the chocolate melted in her hands. 

Cocoa Life’s Matilda Broni explained that aside from exporting, cocoa beans are useless to local Ghanian communities, where they were introduced by missionaries in the 1800s - occasionally but rarely used in some stews.

Seventy-year-old Agustina Zomelo enjoying her very

Seventy-year-old Agustina Zomelo enjoying her very first chocolate (James de Villiers)

That day, Hayley van Niekerk, senior brand manager from Mondelez South Africa, told the community that she wouldn’t be able to do her job without the cocoa beans they produced. She’d go on to repeat it to every community the Mondelez representatives visited.

"I wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t have the cocoa [beans] your parents make," she told a final year class in a mud wall school in Suhum, Eastern Ghana, days later.

The children all dressed in worn-out orange-yellow school shirts; mismatched black school shoes tainted with dust. 

"So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you," Van Niekerk added, but the pupils unable to comprehend the English she spoke.  

As the two Mondelez representatives left the classroom, a child jumped from his desk and waved them goodbye.

"May God bless you," the 16-year-old child screamed as they left the school, making their way to the air-conditioned bus. 

The Mondelez representatives were on their way back to South Africa, where they earn salaries way more than the child’s mother or father - where Ghana’s cocoa beans fuel their wealth.

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