Chocolate, made from the cocoa bean, is the world’s favorite sweet. Cocoa and chocolate have influenced the world more than most realize. The lure of sweet cocoa seeds was a primary incentive for European powers to pursue colonial interests in the New World, and chocolate has often been used as currency during wartime. Hot cocoa is among the most popular winter beverages, and cocoa is used as candy in almost every major holiday. Cocoa products have pervaded much of our society, so for this week’s Map of the Week, we looked at where cocoa is coming from and where it’s going to.
The cocoa bean is indigenous to the Amazon Basin and grows inside large seeds on the cocoa tree. These trees can grow in any similar environment, and due to the forces of globalization, many cocoa plantations have appeared all over the world. While Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in Southeast Asia and Peru and Ecuador in South America are large centers of cocoa production, it is Western Africa that produces the overwhelming majority of the world’s cocoa. Western Africa produces nearly 75% of all the world’s cocoa, with Côte d’Ivoire producing almost 40% of the world’s total alone. Cocoa production is the primary industry of many of these states, with tens of millions of workers there dependent on the industry.
So if most of the cocoa is be grown on West African plantations, where is it being shipped to? The processed cocoa beans are shipped all over the world, but primarily, it goes to Europe. Europe imports more than 50% of the world’s cocoa. Who is the most prolific European cocoa importer? That would be the Dutch, importing just under 25% of all cocoa produced, an admirable achievement for such a geographically small country. Even the United States, which has over 300 million more citizens than the Netherlands, only imports 15% of all cocoa.
This is not to say that the Dutch consume the most chocolate. The Netherlands simply imports the most cocoa from the producers, and then process it further into consumable forms and sell it further. In terms of top chocolate consumption, the honor goes to the Swiss, who, per capita, eat more chocolate than anyone else on Earth. Again, European countries top the list of chocolate consumers, with the only non-European country, the United States, coming in ninth.
One thing that is noticeable on the map is that, when shown on the same scale, the imports of cocoa are much more evenly spread than the exports. Western Africa has countries that export more than 30-40% of the world’s cocoa each, whereas no country has that kind of monopoly over imports. After the Netherlands, imports drop quickly, with the vast majority being between 5-10%. While cocoa production is concentrated, consumption is widespread.