How the humble cocoa bean gets turned into chocolate and money

The chocolate supply chain is complicated with many intermediaries from bean to bar. Those at the bottom of the chain get the least while those at the top make the most money. It doesn't have to be this way. 

This content was published on January 6, 2023

Native to Central and South America, cocoa cultivation in West Africa was first recorded in 1868. The archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew refer to a few cocoa trees that were thriving on the property of the Swiss missionary charity Basel Mission in Akropong in what was then known as the British Crown colony of Gold Coast. Today, the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana produce over 60% of the world’s cocoa beans and Switzerland has become synonymous with chocolate. 

This mutually beneficial relationship has come under strain in recent years. Ivory Coast and Ghana are no longer satisfied with their meagre slice of $6 billion of the $120 billion chocolate industry. Switzerland, along with the European Union and the US, is unhappy about deforestation and child labour in cocoa growing regions of West Africa. Both sides are applying pressure on each other to get what they want, but the power balance is still heavily skewed in favour of the cocoa consumers compared to the cocoa producers. The combined revenue earned by Swiss chocolate makers Nestlé (confectionery only), Lindt & Sprüngli and Barry Callebaut in 2021 was more than three times the combined value of cocoa beans exported by Ivory Coast and Ghana the year before. As major stakeholders these companies are also shaping what cocoa production will look like in the future.  

West Africa wants to change the status quo and is trying to renegotiate its role in the chocolate industry. From joining forces and adding value to investing in digitisation and sustainability. It is an uphill battle but a necessary one to avoid being held hostage by global cocoa prices and to ensure a livelihood for the five million cocoa farmers in the region.  

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.