Where are cocoa beans grown? Cacao beans, from which chocolate is created, are cultivated and grown in tropical countries. West African countries are the world’s largest producers and exporters of cacao beans, with about 75 percent of the world’s cacao beans coming from this area. Central and South America, southeastern Asia and the Caribbean account for the other 25 percent.
What are the top cocoa producing countries? What country produces the most chocolate? Would you like to know the amount of cocoa production by country? Each of the cocoa growing countries receives a ranking based on the amount of cacao beans they export, with the most recent rankings determined in 2020.
Keep reading to learn more about chocolate production by country as well as child labor, farming and deforestation practices of each one—and how you can know if the chocolate you’re eating was ethically sourced.
Where is cocoa grown? West African countries like Sierra Leone rank highest in cocoa production. Sierra Leone is one of the top cocoa exporting countries in the world, coming in at number 17. Cacao beans are grown in the eastern part of the country in the Gola Rainforest. Over 45 percent of children ages 5 to 17 are victims of child labor.
About 75 percent of the land available for farming remains uncultivated. The main farming system in Sierra Leone is the subsistence method, which uses outdated tools, depends on rainfall, and results in low crop yields. At one time, 60 percent of Sierra Leone was covered by forests, but today, less than 10 percent of that original forest remains.
The West African nation of Liberia ranks number 22 in the world in cacao production. Unlike its neighbors, Liberia isn’t known as a traditional cacao growing country. Two civil wars resulted in a period of 14 years during which Liberian cocoa farmers couldn’t farm. As a result, a generation of cocoa farmers lost the knowledge they had about cultivating and growing cacao trees.
To remedy this, Liberian cacao farmers worked with ITC’s Netherlands Trust Fund Phase IV Mano River Project in 2019 to help move Liberian cocoa into the niche, single-origin market segment. This project ended the isolation of cocoa farmers, especially women, and today, cocoa is Liberia’s second largest export crop.
About 15 percent of Liberian children are forced into child labor, and many work in the agricultural sector, which is the primary source of income for more than 60 percent of Liberia’s population.
Liberia contains 40 percent of West Africa’s remaining rainforest. From 2001 to 2020, the country lost about 20 percent of its tree cover.
Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) is the largest producer of cocoa in the world, producing over 2 million tons a year. About 75 percent of the land in Côte d'Ivoire is suitable for growing crops, and almost half of its citizens work in agriculture, including many children. In 2020, the government of Côte d’Ivoire rescued 138 children from traffickers, and new initiatives were created to help identify victims and to investigate cases of child labor.
Cocoa prices were the focus of policy reforms in 2011 as the government looked to increase cocoa production and ensure farmers could make a living. Farmers are guaranteed a minimum price, which is set lower than international prices so that the government can generate surpluses.
Deforestation rates in Côte d'Ivoire are high, with the country losing about 3 percent of its forests each year. Since 1960, it has lost more than 85 percent of its forest cover.
When looking at cacao production by country, Ghana ranks second in the world. About 59 percent of Ghana’s workforce is involved in agriculture, with approximately 39 percent of those farm laborers women. Cocoa farmers earn approximately $0.40-$0.45 (USD) per day, which accounts for two-thirds of cocoa farmers’ household income.
One of every six children in Ghana is involved in child labor, and 88 percent of those children work in agriculture. The global pandemic caused more children to enter the workforce for the first time. In 2020, procedures were developed to protect children and families along with a new shelter for child trafficking victims.
Nearly 80 percent of Ghana’s forests have been lost to illegal logging activity since 1990, and between 2017 and 2018, the deforestation rate increased by a whopping 60 percent—the biggest one-year jump of any tropical country. Despite the government's efforts to maintain and protect Ghana's forest reserves, deforestation continues.
Togo ranks number 15 in the world for cocoa production. Its largest export is coffee, followed by cocoa. About 60 percent of the population works in the agriculture sector, which is dominated by subsistence farming. Arable land makes up 60 percent of Togo, but despite the size of the country’s agricultural sector, more than half of the population suffers from food insecurity.
Almost 30 percent of children in Togo are victims of child labor. In 2020, the government rescued 250 children at risk of human trafficking and passed a ministerial decree that defined and prohibited hazardous work for children under 18 years old.
Togo has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world at 4.5 percent per year.
Nigeria came in at number 4 in the world in cocoa production. Production has declined since the 1970s, when crude oil was discovered. Even with the presence of oil, agriculture remains the foundation of Nigeria’s economy.
About 43 percent of Nigerian children between the ages of 5 and 10 are victims of child labor. This disturbing statistic means nearly 1 in 2 elementary school aged children in Nigeria has been forced into labor.
Nigeria has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and it has lost 96 percent of its forest due to deforestation.
Equatorial Guinea ranks number 41 in cocoa production and is home some of the most exotic cocoa trees in the world. Rare Heirloom cacao beans, which have a unique, fine flavor that attracts higher market prices, are grown there. Oil reserves were discovered in the 1990s and 2000s, and they used the influx to their economy to develop their infrastructure.
Although Equatorial Guinea has passed a law prohibiting child labor, it is not enforced. Children work on family farms and as market vendors and are forced into prostitution.
As a result of diversifying their economy away from oil to focus on what was once one of their largest exports—cacao—deforestation rates are rising, with 1.2 percent of forests degraded each year from 2014 to 2018.
São Tomé e Principe
São Tomé e Principe is an island state in the Gulf of Guinea and comes in at number 30 for cocoa production. They suffer from isolation and the lack of a diversified economy, which depends on agriculture (mostly cocoa production).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, São Tomé had an annual production of 35,000 tons of cocoa and was not only the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans but also the leader in terms of quality. Although São Tomé can no longer claim the title of world’s largest cocoa producer, investment from Fair Trade companies and the global demand for craft chocolate have elevated the status of this tiny West African country once again.
One-third of São Tomé e Principe’s population lives on less than $1.90 per day, which is the international poverty line. Poverty leads to the exploitation of children, and over 20 percent of children in São Tomé are victims of child labor.
Most of the native forests have disappeared, and approximately one-third of the forests have been converted into plantations that produce mostly coffee and cocoa, the country’s key export crops.
Ecuador ranks number 7 in the world in cocoa production. Small farms in Ecuador employ about 70 percent of rural workers, and poverty among cacao farmers is high as middlemen pay the farmers unfair prices and cheat them out of their earnings by using broken scales or trickery to undermine quality standards.
Poverty and lack of resources contribute to Ecuador having the highest rate of child labor in Latin America. Fifty-six percent of child labor involves a dangerous activity, which affects around 200,000 children and adolescents, of whom 66 percent are boys.
Ecuador also has the highest rate of deforestation in Western Hemisphere at 3 percent per year.
Mexico ranks number 13 in the world in cocoa production. Prior to the global pandemic, Mexico’s agricultural sector experienced tremendous growth, and with its large land mass and diverse range of climates, it is well-suited to further advancement and increasing yields.
Again, high poverty rates are contributing to the high rate of child labor. In 2016, over 43 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. Recently, the government published the 2019 National Child Labor Survey and will use the results to develop policies and programs to fight child labor.
Each year, Mexico loses an average of 870 square miles of farmland to deforestation.
Vietnam’s ranking is unknown, but agriculture is no longer the most important economic sector even though more than half of the population is employed in this sector.
Almost 10 percent of the under-18 population is involved in child labor, with one-third of the children working an average of 42 hours a week and not able to attend school.
Vietnam is one of the few countries to successfully rehabilitate its lost forests over the past 15 years.
Brazil ranks number 6 in cocoa production and is essentially self-sufficient in providing basic foodstuffs for its citizens. They are a leading exporter of a wide range of crops, including cocoa, coffee, oranges, soybeans, and cassava.
About 30 percent of Brazilian child labor occurs in the agricultural sector, and 60 percent of that occurs in the northern and northeastern regions of the country.
Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world. Since 1970, over 270,000 square miles of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. Between August 2020 and July 2021, the rainforest lost over 4,000 square miles—an area nearly seven times bigger than London and 13 times the size of New York City.
Peru comes in at number 8 for the highest cocoa production in the world. Agriculture represents only 7 percent of their total GDP, but it is still a significant economic sector and employs 26 percent of the population.
Over 28 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 receive wages or are paid in kind in jobs that are often unregulated, putting children at risk of exploitation and dangerous working conditions. Some of these children work more than 45 hours per week.
Peru has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. About 1,100 square miles of Peru's forests are cut down every year—around 80 percent of them illegally. Between 2001 and 2019, they lost about 4 percent of their forests to deforestation, resulting in an almost 3 percent decrease in their total primary rainforest.
How to Know if Ethical Sourcing Practices Were Used in Chocolate Making
More and more people want to know if the chocolate they’re buying was made using ethical sourcing practices that provide a fair wage for the farmer, sustainable farming practices and protection against exploiting children. How can you know if these practices are being followed?
Check the chocolate bar for certification labels such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade. These certification systems include an auditing process that helps make sure farmers adhere to their standards.
The Rainforest Alliance focuses on prohibiting deforestation, and the Fair Trade certification means a product must be produced by a farmer, cooperative or workers and meet standards set by the Fair Trade labeling body. Both the Fair Trade system and the Rainforest Alliance work to make sure the cacao is grown and harvested in a way that is more sustainable for the planet and that farmers are paid fairly.
At Cococlectic, we work only with chocolate makers who ethically source their cacao beans from trusted coops or distributors like Meridian Cacao or Uncommon Cacao. These distributors share transparent trade information so that buyers can follow each transaction along the supply chain and know exactly where the final cacao product comes from and how it got there. Read more about Uncommon Cacao’s transparent trade practices here.
Each month at Cococlectic, we feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker who is passionate about producing their chocolate from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.
The chocolates sold at Cococlectic are vegan, non-GMO, fair trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.
We sell only dark chocolate bars in our chocolate shop. Monthly subscription boxes, one-time gift boxes or corporate gift boxes containing your choice of dark bars only or mixed bars with inclusions of fruits and nuts are available with the purchase of the Office Box. Each chocolate box comes with 4 full-size dark chocolate bars that are made in the US.
Sign up for our chocolate-of-the-month subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.