West African Cocoa farmers face ongoing struggles with poverty, some living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day, despite producing approximately 70% of the global Cocoa output.
A premium chocolate maker in Côte d’ivoire, Axel Emmanuel Gbaou, seeks to improve conditions for farmers by increasing their value offering, enabling them to earn more from the Cocoa they produce. Gbaou’s company, Le Chocolatier Ivoirien (the Ivorian Chocolate Maker) has set out to revolutionise the sector by training and employing the wives of Cocoa farmers, who were otherwise uninvolved in the process.
Rather than simply selling the Cocoa beans, Gbaou created a processing programme in 2016 that has trained 2000 women since its launch. The value upscaling allows farming families to charge more for processed products, rather than the comparatively low price received for the raw commodity.
There’s many middlemen in the process, so the farmers live in poverty. Throughout the country, they buy one kilo of raw Cocoa beans for one euro. It’s not a fair priceAxel Gbaou, Chocolate Maker
He also believes that by including women in the Cocoa value chain, he is improving their quality of life by allowing greater independence. “I add value in the village, and I also train these women to be entrepreneurs and have a better life than before.”
The company sends their chocolate all over the world – I noticed from their online shop that they ship to the UK, and the bars are packaged in colourful African designs and look stylish and professional.
“When the Cocoa money came in at the end of the month, it would go in the pocket of the husband. But now, the women have money and they can take care of the family,” claims Gbaou, adding that “they aren’t my employees, they’re my partners.”
The women enrolled in the programme are first taught how to select high-quality Cocoa beans since not all beans are of sufficient quality to be used in chocolate, with some of them applied in cosmetic products as Cocoa butter. The women are then instructed on how to roast the premium beans for chocolate production before the Cocoa butter is extracted. “In each bean, 55 percent is Cocoa butter. There’s lots of fat. After extracting it, I show them how to crush it to have a good Cocoa paste and then add the sugar,” explains Gbaou.
Afterwards, he purchases the processed Cocoa for use in his own business. As a result, the farmer is entitled to 15 euros per kilo for high-quality Cocoa butter, or 5 euros per kilo for roasted Cocoa beans, a significant increase over the 1 euro per kilo a farmer typically gets for unprocessed Cocoa beans.
“Selling the bean is not the solution; you have to process, not all, but a little bit, and this will change the economy,” he says. The increased earnings allow women more financial freedom, enabling them to pay for their children’s school fees and transport. Gbaou tells the story of one woman in Tumodi, a city 200 km from Abidjan, who has increased her earnings by making and selling chocolate sauce for doughnuts. “Every day she calls me to say she’s earned 10 euros/day, in three hours,” he says.
For Gbaou, the revitalisation of the industry is of crucial importance, as there is concern that future generations will not continue the tradition of Cocoa farming. “Their children don’t want to be Cocoa growers because of the suffering of their parents. If they die, there is no one to take over the Cocoa farm, and Cocoa will disappear, according to experts,” he says.
Considering that Ivorian Cocoa farmers are on average 55 years old and that there is a life expectancy of 58, he hopes that his efforts will encourage more young people to continue the Cocoa farming business.