For the Love of Chocolate

As our contingency of Dutch, Ivorian, and Americans waited to see the Ashanti King, drums pounded and bright colors flashed, and delegations passed by to pay their respects to the king.  We were on a mission to create a film called “For the  Love of Chocolate.” But not just a love of that creamy, sweet chocolate bar that we’re all familiar with in western world, also a love for the bean, the way it’s made, and most importantly, the people that make it.

I traveled to the heart of the cocoa growing region with my colleagues from Mars, Dutch NGO Solidaridad, and a film crew just a few weeks ago, during the height of cocoa production.  Dutch actress Katja Schuurman led the way as she narrated the journey from the remote farms around Kumasi, Ghana, to the Ghana CocoaBOD which regulates the trade, to the NGO Solidaridad and the Dutch government that supports sustainable production, and finally to Mars who transforms the materials into the chocolate that we are all familiar with.

Amongst the music and general celebrations, we waited to meet the Ashanti King to thank him for his support of sustainable cocoa production in his region.  The Ashanti tribe stretches across the cocoa belt in Ghana and part of Cote d’Ivoire, and the King is an important cultural figurehead to the local population.  Cocoa is an essential source of economic activity for the people that live here.  25 percent of Ghana’s economy and 20 percent of the population is dependent on cocoa, and much like Cote d’Ivoire where Mars runs the Vision for Change program, farmers here suffer low yields and thus low incomes from aging trees and lack of appropriate inputs to increase their cocoa production.

Mars is training organizations like Solidaridad to bring the ‘holy trinity’ of inputs to farmers – good planting materials,  agronomic training, and fertilizer – to farmers in Ghana.  As my colleague Peter van Grinsven explained in the film, we will only be able to support cocoa farmers, and ‘win the war’ against low yields and disappearing cocoa trees, if we can combine these three elements into a powerful productivity package for farmers.  Peter was able to demonstrate the effects of this intervention to Katja and the
NetGeo crew in the film by visiting a farmer who has successfully rehabilitated his farm, told us that he and his wife hope to send their children to school to become bankers and teachers, to be trained in professions that will bring essential services to Ghana and further support the country’s rehabilitated his farm, and one who has not.   Zakariah, a farmer who has forward trajectory.
Not only was Zakariah supportive of this work, but the King was pleased with this message as well.  He told us that he wanted to continue to support cocoa farming, and in particular to increase access to education in cocoa farming communities, truly sweetening the lot from the farm to bar.






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