From bean to bar – where does your chocolate come from?

“When I told people I was writing a book about cocoa”, says Orla Ryan, “I frequently ended up being asked which was the best chocolate to buy”.

The people who asked this question often distrusted large companies, they had read about the thousands of children who work in plantations, and wanted to buy chocolate from a company which looked after smallholders.

Orla Ryan is a former Reuters commodities reporter in Ghana where she lived for two years until the end 0f 2007. She followed the cocoa market in unusual depth and what she found it was very different from the daily reports that the commodity traders and reporters read in their computer screens in their offices in London. In the Chocolate Nations, she writes about how the industry works in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, how farmers are treated and their relationship with companies like Cadbury.

51tjaNTQ6CL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Chocolate is a serious commodity in world trade, but for the hundreds of thousands of farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, it is a life and death economic matter. A good crop means they have enough money to spare. A bad one means poverty.

Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana cultivate each 1.7 million hectares of land for cocoa production. Hundreds of thousands of farmers work to produce over 700,000 of cocoa every year. Those two West African nations grow more than 50% of the world’s cocoa beans. The hundreds of millions of dollars earned from the cocoa sale keep the Ghanaian economy going. After gold, it’s the country’s economic mainstay. This popular song from the 1950s gives the idea of the role of the cocoa in peoples’ lives in Ghana

If you want to send your children to school, it is cocoa

If you want to build your house, it is cocoa

If you want to marry, it is cocoa

If you want to buy cloth, it is cocoa

If you want to buy lorry, it is cocoa

Whatever you want to do in this world

It is cocoa money that you do it.

Ghanaian cocoa is considered to be some of the world’s finest, but taste matters little to local smallholders. Most of them they have never tasted chocolate; they are making just enough money to make ends meet.

In Chocolate Nations, Ryan examines the role of chocolate in the economic and political life of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and in international trade, and the role of chocolate in the life of chocolate farmers and their families. She also tells the story of the efforts of a few individuals and NGOs that try to achieve a better value of the crop on behalf of the farmers.

Ryan give us a thoughtful and in-depth overview of the cocoa industry in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, addressing the political and economic challenges, as well as the benefits and limitations of Fairtrade. Before you buy a chocolate, she says, look behind the marketing, and don’t forget to read the small print.