Western chocolate companies try to exploit Africa’s cocoa farmers
Sierra Leone opened its first cocoa processing factory to bring profits from the West African country’s crucial industry back home and improve the lives of thousands of local farmers.
The new factory’s machinery, nestled in the eastern Kenema Village, juddered to life last week in a ceremony attended by president Julius Maada Bio, who said it was a “giant step” for the country and economy.
With the capacity to process up to 4,000 tonnes of cocoa beans per year – around a quarter of the country’s annual output – Sierra Leone’s cocoa industry joins the ranks of the world’s largest cocoa producers, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, who have been crushing, roasting and grinding cocoa beans into unsweetened cocoa liquor or cocoa mass, used to manufacture chocolate, for years.
The factory was built as part of a $2.9 million project backed by $600,000 from the Sierra Leone Agribusiness Development Fund, (SLAD) and designed to help cocoa farmers extract more value from their hard labour.
The region’s heavyweight cocoa producers are also locked in an ongoing battle with US and European chocolate companies who deny farmers a dignified existence by trying to avoid a newly introduced minimum price of $400 per tonne for cocoa.
The premium was introduced in July 2020 by Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, who produce more than 60% of the world’s cocoa, in a bid to curb farmer poverty.
A report published by the VOICE network, which advocates reforming the cocoa sector to improve working conditions, says that the Western chocolate companies holds producers in a cycle of poverty, with less than 10% of farmers in Ghana on or above the living income line.