by Delia Mitchell

Cocoa is a swoon-inducing favorite confection, but there are a number of concerns regarding the production of the popular ingredient that are far from sweet.

Outside of the food industry, cocoa’s raw materials are often tapped by beauty manufacturers to create products ranging from silky smooth body butters to pigmented bronzers. However, many supply chains may involve child labor, enslavement, unfair wages, destructive environmental practices, and outdated farming techniques.

How Cacao Is Grown and Harvested 

Cocoa is made from the beans of cacao trees (Theobroma Cacao), which require very specific conditions in order to flourish. To say the tree is temperamental would be an understatement. Cacao trees require a humid atmosphere, abundant rain, nutrient-rich soil, and are only capable of growing within 20 degrees north or south of the equator. In short, they can only thrive in tropical rainforests. As a result, 70% of the world’s cacao beans originate from West Africa, while Southeast Asia and Central and South America produce the balance.

Before it is turned into what is recognizable as chocolate, the beans are hidden within an unassuming football-shaped fruit that varies in color, from red to yellow, depending on its genetic makeup or ripeness. Each pod can contain anywhere from 40 to 60 almond-sized seeds or beans.

The Environmental Impact of Cacao Production 

As a result of growing cacao operations, one study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University found 13 of 23 protected areas in West Africa have lost all primate populations.

Moreover, Mighty Earth, a global advocacy organization, found that in the past year alone, deforestation occurred in 47,000 hectares of cacao-growing regions of Côte d’Ivoire, a West African region that supplies 40% of the world’s cocoa.

This deforestation of tropical rainforests is driving climate change, which in turn, affects the sensitive temperature conditions needed for the cacao pods’ growth.

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