Despite being popular worldwide, cocoa requires specific growing conditions that are generally found within 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

For many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, cocoa represents a significant portion of their national economies. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two largest cocoa-producing countries in the world, respectively produced 1,242,000 and 632,000 tonnes of cocoa in 2010.

Cocoa is Ghana’s largest cash crop, accounting for over 17 percent of the world’s 2010 supply.

But as the chocolate industry grows, farmers have been unable to reap the benefits.

Harvesting cocoa is still done by hand. Farmers collect cocoa pods one by one with the use of a machete or a long-handled gaff. This process requires knowledge and experience to tell which pods have ripened, and skill to carefully avoid damaging the delicate trees, which can take years to mature.

Cocoa growers are typically small-scale family farmers, often facing issues such as low prices, high costs of production, and a lack of diversification.

Many small-scale crops don’t meet volume

requirements for world trading, so farmers must rely on intermediaries. Since many farmers also lack access to current market prices, they are left at a disadvantage when selling their crop. What’s more is that most small-scale farmers have difficulty obtaining financing, which prevents them from expanding their operations.

Poverty is a significant issue. Many farmers struggle to meet basic needs, and many cocoa-producing areas lack access to basic education.

And while it’s long been a tradition that children help with work on the family farm—particularly during harvest season—many youths work long hours, perform hazardous tasks, and are prevented from attending school.

In worst-case scenarios, farmers will resort to using trafficked children. In these situations, children as young as eight are smuggled across borders to work in cocoa fields for little to no wages.

These children endure dangerous working conditions such as carrying heavy loads and working with pesticides and chemicals without receiving proper garments or training.

In March, 2011, the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University conducted a study covering initiatives aimed at improving labour standards in the chocolate industry. The report not only identified that child labour is still an issue in the industry, but that ethical sourcing standards such as Fairtrade designation are important strategies in solving the problem.

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