Orla Ryan: Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.

Author:Rioux, Sebastien
Position:Book review

Orla Ryan

Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, Zed Books, London, UK, 2011; 176 pp: 9781848130050, 12.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)

For the US$75 billion chocolate and cocoa-based products market, West Africa is a key region. If the region produces about two-thirds of the world production of cocoa beans, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana contribute over 50 per cent to the world supply. As the former Reuters correspondent in Uganda and Ghana and actual Financial Times journalist Orla Ryan demonstrates, our favourite sweet is produced thanks to the mass poverty of millions of farmers. Divided into ten chapters, including an Introduction and an Epilogue, Ryan argues in this short, journalistic book that politically fragmented small producers need political leadership, negotiating muscle, education, scientific support and land reform, while chocolate companies need more transparency.

Since their independence in 1957 and 1960, both Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire have used their respective national marketing board as financial instruments for developmental projects, buying from the producers at a fixed price and selling at higher prices on international markets. Mismanagement and corruption in Ghana led to a dramatic decline in production during the 1960s and 1970s, a trend that was only reversed by the government setting higher farm-gate prices under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, in order to increase production. With elections in 1992, the government became increasingly dependent on the country's 720,000 cocoa producers, and thereby rising producers' prices became an essential aspect of electoral life, although poverty remains the norm for cocoa farmers.

Chapters 2 to 4 survey the transformation of Cote d'Ivoire's miracle into a nightmare. Ryan argues that in 'these two decisions [welcoming immigrants with open arms and making land freely available] lie the secrets of the success of the Ivorian cocoa industry and the roots of its downfall' (p. 26). Plummeting international prices in the 1980s destroyed the previous two decades of rapid economic growth. Defaulting on its debt in 1987, structural adjustment forced the government to balance its books on the back of coffee and cocoa farmers by cutting their payments by half, while causing widespread economic hardship. As people from the cities tried to go back to the land, disputes around citizenship and land ownership emerged. Simmering throughout the 1990s,...

To continue reading