What are the top 10 cocoa producing countries in the world?
It is believed that over 1 billion people eat chocolate every day.
Chocolate is made from the fermented and dried seeds that are found inside pods grown on a cacao, or cocoa tree.
The cacao tree is native to the lowland rainforests of the Amazon basin and has been cultivated across South and Central America for thousands of years. It was first given its botanical name ‘theobroma cacao’, by Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom.’ The name Theobroma is taken from Greek and literally means “food of the Gods”. If you want to read more about the origins of the words cacao and cocoa, check out this article.
Cocoa beans were first brought over to Europe by Christopher Columbus, and then later, Hernán Cortés, who gave samples of cacao to King Charles of Spain in 1528. A cacao drink became extremely popular with the Spanish monarchy and the love of chocolate quickly spread across the whole of Europe.
The production of cacao extended out of America and across the tropical regions around the equator, trying to supply the increasing global demand for chocolate. There are now nearly sixty countries growing cacao around the world.1
Cocoa is a product derived from processed cacao beans and is an essential ingredient for chocolate. It is used to produce a whole host of products including cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa husk, drinks, alcohol, cosmetic products, animal feed and much more.
Where is cocoa grown?
Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in a narrow belt, give or take, of around 20 degrees either side of the equator, as it offers the perfect conditions for growing cocoa. The cocoa tree needs high temperatures, humid conditions and plenty of rainfall to grow successfully. For these reasons, cocoa is produced predominantly in the hot and humid regions of Africa, but also in Asia, Central and South America and Australia.
According to an Article on worldagroforestry.org, “Even temperatures between 21 and 23 degrees centigrade, with a fairly constant rainfall of 1,000 to 2,500 mm per year, are needed without hot dry winds and drought.”2
Nearly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa, with the Ivory Coast and Ghana being the two biggest producers. These two countries alone provide half of the world’s cocoa. The following largest cocoa producing countries, in order, are Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
As I mentioned before, there are about 58 countries producing cocoa to some extent in the world, and seeing as I’m in South East Asia, I feel that I should give a few of the countries a special mention. Considering that West Africa is running out of land to grow cocoa and the fact that they produce lower yields of cocoa per hectare than Malaysia, Asia has the potential to grow to help meet the increasing global demand.
Indonesia hardly grew cocoa before 1980 but is now the third biggest cocoa producing country in the world. Currently, Asia produces about 13% of the world’s cocoa beans, but this is only going to increase. There are now many countries in Asia producing cocoa including India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand. It is a fairly new crop to this region but they are becoming increasingly important areas for cultivating cocoa.
Cocoa first arrived in Asia in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period in the 17th century. According to the 1877 folio titled Flora De Filipinas, “cacao first travelled outside its American homeland in 1670 from Acapulco, Mexico to the Philippines aboard Manila galleons.”3 It then spread to other parts of South East Asia sometime during the next couple of hundred years.
If we talk about the origin of cocoa in Thailand, the seeds most probably arrived from Malaysia in the early 20th century and have been cultivated ever since. It is not an important crop for Thailand but is still being grown in areas such as Chantaburi, Chiang Mai, Chumphon, Koh Samui, Nong Khai and I’m sure many others. This is pretty surprising considering Chiang Mai sits 18 degrees north of the equator. Unfortunately, according to reportlinker.com, Thailand has been decreasing its annual production of cocoa from 932.00 tonnes in 2007 to only 117.00 tonnes in 2016.4
Cacao originated in South and Central America and they still grow around 15% of the world’s cocoa beans. Brazil was actually the largest cocoa producer in the world throughout the 19th century until the Ivory Coast and West Africa took that mantle from them. They still produce the most on the American continent at 235.809 tonnes, with Ecuador not far behind at 205,955 tonnes. Cocoa is also grown in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia and Mexico.
What are the different varieties of cocoa?
There are actually over ten varieties of cocoa but most people consider there to be three main types: Forastero, the robust and most widely grown; Criollo, the higher quality but more expensive and finally Trinitario, the hybrid of the other two. Then there are a few sub-varieties.
Read on more: What are the different varieties of cacao?
Forastero is the most widely grown variety making up around 80% of the world’s cocoa production. It originated in the Bahia region of Brazil but is now also grown in Africa and South East Asia. It is favoured because of its robustness, resistance to disease and high yields. It can be quite bitter and acidic but gives people a full-bodied chocolate.
According to fao.org, “Forastero (Amelonado) pods are short, yellow, smooth without warts, and with shallow furrows.”
Criollo is generally deemed to be the highest quality out of all the varieties of cocoa but also the most expensive. It is rarer and grown far less commonly around the world because it produces lower yields than the other varieties and is prone to fungi diseases and pests. It is now still grown in Central and South America, but also in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Fao.org describes Criollo pods, when ripe as: “long, yellow or red, with deep furrows and big warts.”
Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero cocoa and takes some of the best traits from both. It has the aromas and fine flavours from Criollo and the hardiness, high yields and resistance to disease from Forastero. Trinitario cocoa is nowadays cultivated throughout the world but still only makes up about 5% of the total world production. It is still grown in Trinidad but now also in Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and parts of South East Asia.
The pods of Trinitario cacao, as it is a cross breed, can be “long or short, red and yellow.”5
Top 10 cocoa producing countries in the world
There were 5.2 million tonnes of cocoa beans produced in 2017 supplying an ever-increasing worldwide demand for chocolate. The global chocolate market was valued at USD 103.28 billion in 2017 and expected to grow to around USD 161.56 billion by 2024.6
So which countries are feeding this huge demand and satisfying the worldwide love of cocoa and chocolate.
Here are the top 10 cocoa producing countries in 2017 according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Colombia is the tenth largest cocoa producer in the world yielding 56,808 tonnes of cocoa in 2017, grown on over 200,000 hectares of land. The industry supports the livelihoods of 50,000 farmers that each cultivates an average of 3.5 hectares.7
Colombia produces some of the finest cocoa beans in the world and they mostly grow the highly sought after Crillio and Trinitario varieties. It is grown in the regions of Santander, the north of Antioquia and the south of Córdoba.8
The cocoa industry in Colombia has had the nearly impossible task of competing with the drug trade. This trade fights for the use of the same land and pays a far higher income cultivating illegal crops.
In spite of this, Colombia has managed to produce enough cocoa to be self-sufficient and to feed its domestic market.
The government and the National Cocoa Federation of Colombia have joined the Ivory Coast and Ghana in signing up to the ‘Cocoa, Forests and Peace Initiative’. It commits to eliminating deforestation for the cultivation of cocoa and pledges to produce ‘peace-friendly’ cocoa. 9
9. The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is the largest cocoa producer in the Caribbean with 86,599 tonnes in 2017 and is a leader in sustainable, fair-trade and organic cocoa.
The cocoa industry is clearly important to the economy of the island as it sustains 40,000 farmers, employs 350,000 people and earned the country $261 million in 2015.10 The island is aiming to considerably increase its cocoa yields and in the last decade have grown their cocoa exports by 322% and aim to triple it by 2027.11
The Dominican Republic cultivates two varieties of cocoa, the Hispaniola and the Sanchez at about 4% and 96% of production respectively.12
Cacao most likely originated in the Amazon basin around Peru and now Peruvian chocolate is considered to be some of the finest in the world.
They, like Colombia, have had to fight the allure of the cocaine trade and the higher income offered by the Coca plant. However, the government is encouraging the cultivation of cacao and de-emphasising the growth of illicit crops.
Peru produced a total of 121,825 tonnes of cocoa in 2017 and is seeing rapid growth each year. Over half of their cocoa exports are beans with 20% being organic and the rest is made up of post-processed products such as cocoa butter, liquor, powder and husks.13
Cocoa plantations are spread throughout the country with the main growing areas in La Convención and Lares, Huallaga, Apurímac-Ene and Alto Marañón, all in the Eastern Andes.14
People have been processing and consuming cocoa for over 5000 years in Equador, which was discovered from chemical residues found on ancient pottery.15 More recently, Ecuador produced 205,955 tonnes of cocoa in 2017 which makes them the seventh largest cocoa producing country in the world and earning them $700 million to their economy.
Ecuador cannot compete with West Africa when it comes to volume, but they can compete with them when it comes to quality. They are unique in that they are the only country that grows the Arriba and Nacional varieties of cocoa, which are world renowned for their quality. Ecuador supplies more than 60% of the worlds ‘fine-flavour’ cocoa, which is coveted among artisanal and bean to bar chocolate makers the world over.16
Brazil is a vast country and was once a leading producer of cocoa until the deadly fungus witches’ broom destroyed the plantations and decimated the industry in the 1990s. Brazil went from a cocoa production of 400,000 tonnes in the 1990s to 160,000 tonnes in 2003.17 They have recovered slightly to 235,809 tonnes in 2017 and with a surge of new planting, Brazil’s National Association of the Cocoa Processing Industry (AIPC) expects to nearly double production by 2028.18
Brazil famously grows cocoa in the State of Bahia, but also to a large extent in the Amazon basin and Espiritu Santo. The country is well known for growing the Forastero variety.
West Africa is by far the largest cocoa producing region in the world and Cameroon is the fourth largest producing country in this region with 295,028 tonnes in 2017. The sector is vitally important to the country as it is the second largest source of foreign currency and supplies jobs to over 600,000 people.19
The country’s cocoa yields have been steadily increasing over the last few years, but not without issues. The country has been suffering internal strife since 2016, particularly in the cocoa-producing Anglophone regions. This has led to cocoa farmers abandoning their plantations in order to escape the violence between the government and separatists.20
Cocoa is grown in 8 out of the 10 regions, but chiefly in the coastal zone extending from Cameroon to Kribe and in the Center South East region. It takes up approximately 450,000 hectares of land.21
Cocoa is the largest agricultural export for Nigeria, supporting 300,000 farmers and taking up 800,000 hectares of land.22 Nigeria produced 328,263 tonnes of cocoa in 2017 representing around 2 percent of the country’s exports. The regions that predominantly grow cocoa include Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Ekiti and they produce 60 percent of the country’s total output.23
Nigeria used to be the second biggest producer of cocoa in the world pre-1970, but this declined with the discovery of large amounts of crude oil. The country has suffered heavily recently with the collapse in the price of oil and with the fact they have old cocoa trees, ageing farmers, low yields and a lack of cocoa knowledge among farmers.24
Looking positively, the country has shifted its attention back to cocoa cultivation and they still have the available land and climate to reinvigorate the industry and to revive their economy. It seems to have been working as the Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) oversaw a 20% increase in cocoa production from 2016 to 2017. 25
Indonesia expanded rapidly into the cocoa industry over the last few decades to become the third biggest cocoa producer in the world, despite the fact they hardly grew cocoa before the 1980s. Indonesia produced 659,776 tonnes of cocoa in 2017 making it their fourth largest agricultural export.26
The country uses roughly 1.5 million hectares of land for the cultivation of cocoa and about 75 percent of that production coming from the island of Sulawesi.27 The rest of their cocoa is grown in North Sumatra, West Java, Papua and East Kalimantan. Also, up to 85 percent of the country’s cocoa is grown by small-scale farmers.
However, the cocoa industry in Indonesia is going through a bit of a downturn with production output shrinking over the last few years. This is due to ageing trees, low productivity, low domestic consumption and farmers switching to more profitable crops.28
Cocoa is the main cash crop of Ghana taking up an estimated 1.9 million hectares of land and supporting over 800,000 people that make a living out of the sector.29 Ghana is the second biggest cocoa producing country in the world with 883,652 tonnes in 2017, generating about $2billion in foreign exchange annually.30
More than 70% of that being exported to Europe and America and a quarter of it being processed within the country. They have announced plans to increase the local processing of their own beans to 50% with a partnership with China and the opening of a new $60 million factory.31
The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) intends to significantly increase their cocoa production despite the worldwide overproduction and the subsequent drop in price.
However, this will be difficult to organise due to the fact that the majority of cocoa produced in Ghana is done by peasant farmers on small plots of land.
Ghana has also faced the problems of child labour and deforestation. There is possibly over a million children working in the cocoa industry and the country has lost over a quarter of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005 and another 500,000 hectares between 2001 and 2013.32
1. Ivory Coast
The Ivory Coast is by far the largest cocoa producing country in the world supplying over 30% of the world’s cocoa beans at 2,034,000 tonnes in 2017. The cocoa industry is hugely important to the economy of the country as it accounts for 40.2% of its export income.33
It is a vital crop for the government and people of the country with roughly 600,000 farmers and 6 million people relying on the industry to survive. The growth of the industry hasn’t come without its struggles. They have had to deal with mass deforestation, weather-related problems, financial difficulties and child labour.34 But the good news is that they have signed a pact with their neighbour Ghana to prevent any further deforestation for the cocoa industry and to improve the interests of the farmers.