The Politics of Chocolate
Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire
Little is ever said of Cote d'Ivoire (The Ivory Coast), most Americans wouldn't be able to ball park it on a map. The lucky ones would say Africa, and this is true. Cote d'Ivoire is in western Africa, on the coast. It received its independence from France on August 7th, 1960. The country is mainly perceived as a post colonial backwater. The people probably speaks french, and are probably very poor. It probably isn't worth anything, since the United States doesn't have a military presence there, thus we shouldn't care about its affairs too much.
Well, maybe we should care. 1.3 million tons, or 37.4% of the world's Cacao (Spanish for Cocoa) harvest come from this small country. Over 90% of all French chocolate is Ivorian. If you've had good chocolate, especially overseas, then it was probably Ivorian. Around 70% of Ivorians work in the agriculture sector. Although infrastructure in Cote d'Ivoire is superior to most African countries, most Ivorians work on very small plots of land, thus decreasing the efficiency of the sector. Consolidation of land is not very popular due to relatively low stability and complex demographics.
The north of the country is Animist and Muslim (primarily Sunni or Sufi), with around 30% of the country declaring Islam as their religious choice. The more popular religion (brought by the French) is Catholicism at around 33% of the population, give or take a few percentage points, with around 2.8 million Ivorians baptized. Most Catholics in Cote d'Ivoire are located in Abidjan, the country's largest city, and in other metropolitan areas. People in the south of the country (notably the Akan and the Kru) believe in a deity and subordinate lesser Gods to carry out duties. The Kru believe though, that there is an equivalent of "the devil", a duality who works against the decent God.
In the North of the country, ancestral spirits rule the day, with the idea that the duality of Gods is complimentary rather than complicating. There is an estimated 65 languages that are spoken in this country the size of Maine. Only one language is taught in schools--French.
Abidjan, The Country's Largest City
Import & Export
Obviously, the demographics of the country aren't easy--even after putting them in a crude nutshell. The religious and ethnic demographics make this country exponentially more complicated. I haven't even touched the Ivorian class structure yet. So what does this all have to do with chocolate? Good question.
We have revealed the potent cacao growing potential of this country and its complex demographics. Throwing into the mix an extreme fiscal divide between the low, middle and upper classes--it makes the crop a very dangerous topic to discuss. The poor are who grow the cacao; the Muslims and those who do not believe in Catholicism, mainly animists. The people who run the import/export industry, the factories and the businessmen who sell the cacao to the wealthy and to other countries are Catholic. Keep in mind that wages are low, and that cacao is primarily an export crop. Most prime land is devoted to the export crop, whilst lesser quality lands are used to grow foodstuffs for the people. Cote d'Ivoire has a stunningly high percentage of basic foodstuffs imported per year, further increasing it's dependance on foreign markets to feed and sustain its people.
This is what I worry about; the ethnic and religious divide at different stages in the production of the country's most potent, powerful and profitable export crop. It is worth killing for, and people know this. Dependance on other countries (primarily France) to supply them with basic foodstuffs while utilizing their best land to watch cacao flee the country, only irritates many. Watch and see how this country proceeds through space and time over the next few decades, and watch how the politics of chocolate will change lives over the coming century.
Inside a Cacao (Cocoa) Pod
All About Chocolate!
- Cadbury* An Ethical Company Struggles to Insure the Integrity of Its Supply Chain
- Google Scholar - Stand on The Shoulders of Giants
- Economic Growth Center - Report on Ghana & Cote d'Ivoire
Thank you, Yale!
- Atlas Country Page: Cote d'Ivoire
Statistics and a very brief history.
- Land of the Ivory Coast
Geography of the Ivory Coast, geographic resources.
- Global-Rural Maping Project - Ivory Coast
Demographics and information on the Ivory Coast, Africa.