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Cocoa Value Chain:
From Farmer to Consumer

Every year, more than five million family farms in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Indonesia and Brazil produce about three million tons of cocoa beans.

Growing

Farmers grow cocoa trees on small farms in tropical environments, within 15-20 degrees north and south of the equator. Cocoa is a delicate and sensitive crop, and farmers must protect trees from the wind and sun. They must also fertilize the soil and watch for signs of distress including attack from pests and disease. With proper care, most cocoa trees begin to yield pods at peak production levels by the fifth year, which can continue for another 10 years.

Harvesting

The growing season in the tropics is continuous. Ripe pods may be found on cocoa trees at any time, however, most countries have two periods of time per year of peak production. By practicing careful pruning, farmers can maintain shorter trees to make harvesting easier. The outer husk of the pod is split with a sturdy stick and discarded along with the inner white pulp of the pod. A farmer can expect 20-50 beans per pod, depending on the variety of cocoa.

In most cocoa areas, the main harvest lasts several months. Another smaller harvest – the mid-crop – lasts for several additional months. Changes in weather can dramatically affect harvest times, causing fluctuations from year to year, even on the same farm.

Cocoa farmers use long-handled, mitten-shaped steel tools to reach the pods and snip them without wounding the soft bark of the tree. They can also use cutlasses to remove pods growing closer to the ground. All pods are dropped to the ground and typically, a farmer, family members and neighboring farmers work together to collect pods in baskets.

Fermenting & Drying

Once the beans have been removed from the pods, the farmer packs them into boxes or heaps them into piles. The piles are covered with mats or banana leaves. The layer of pulp that naturally surrounds the beans heats up and ferments the beans. Fermentation is an important step, lasting three to seven days, that produces the chocolate flavor we know when the beans are roasted. The beans are then dried. In the sun, this usually takes several days.

The heap method is typically found in Africa and the box or basket method is typical in Asia and Latin America. In some months, the cocoa farmer can dry his beans simply by laying them on trays or matting and leaving them to bask in the sun. Sometimes farmers use solar dryers to help dry the crop.

Marketing

After the beans are dried and packed into sacks, the farmer sells to a buying station or local agent. The buyer then transports the bags to an exporting company. The exporting company inspects the cocoa and places it into burlap, sisal, or plastic bags. The cocoa is trucked to the exporter’s warehouse near a port. Sometimes additional drying is necessary at this point.

Packing & Transporting

The exporting company finalizes the time and place for shipment and the beans are loaded onto ships. Once the ship reaches its destination, the cocoa is removed from the hold and taken to a pier warehouse. Details of export process vary by country. Cocoa is stored in bags or bulk in the warehouse. The buyer will conduct a quality check to accept delivery and cocoa is usually stored until requested by the processor or manufacturer. Trucks or trains carry the cocoa in large tote bags or loose in the trailer to the manufacturer’s facility on a “just-in-time” basis.

Roasting & Grinding

Beans are first thoroughly inspected and cleaned. The inside of the cocoa bean is called the nib. Depending on preferences, beans can be roasted with the shell intact, or the nib can be roasted alone. Once the beans have been shelled and roasted (or roasted and shelled), the nib is ground into a paste. The heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter in the nib to melt and creates “cocoa liquor.”

Cocoa liquor does not contain alcohol. It can be further refined, sold as unsweetened baking chocolate, or used in chocolate manufacturing. Cocoa liquor is solid at room temperature.

The cocoa processor has the option of treating the cocoa liquor with an alkali solution (alkalizing), which reduces the acidity. This treatment is also known as “dutching” and produces “Dutch processed cocoa”. By alkalizing the liquor, it becomes darker and has a milder, but more chocolaty flavor, and stays in suspension longer in liquids such as milk.

Pressing

The cocoa liquor is fed into hydraulic presses that divide liquor into cocoa butter and cocoa cakes. The cocoa cake can be sold into the generic cocoa cake market, or ground into a fine powder.

The cocoa processor has the option of treating the cocoa liquor with an alkali solution (alkalizing), which reduces the acidity. This treatment is also known as “dutching” and produces “Dutch processed cocoa”. By alkalizing the liquor, it becomes darker and has a milder, but more chocolaty flavor, and stays in suspension longer in liquids such as milk.

Chocolate Making Mixing, Conching, Tempering & Molding

To make chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with cocoa butter, sugar and in some cases, milk. The mixture is then placed into conches—large agitators that stir and smooth the mixture under heat. As a rule, the longer chocolate is conched, the smoother it will be. Conching may last for a few hours to three full days, or even longer. After conching, the liquid chocolate may be shipped in tanks or tempered and poured into moulds for sale in blocks to confectioners, dairies, or bakers.

Consumer

Today, people around the world enjoy chocolate in thousands of different forms, consuming more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans annually. Each country still has its own preferences and distinctive blends for candy and desserts.

The cocoa, chocolate, and confectionery industry employs hundreds of thousands of people around the world and is a key user of other agricultural commodities such as sugar, dairy products, nuts, and fruits.

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