Reflections on Cocoa's Trajectory and Bibliography

There are other shortcomings of British and Ghanaian government that resulted in undermining the abilities and voices of Ghanaian farmers and laborers.  The 1922 newspaper article listed the ways the British government had cheated farmers financially and resourcefully by undercharging and overwhelming them.  One job of the Farmers Associations was to create certifications and standards of cocoa quality with their buyers, to avoid the “benefit being derived by the industry as a whole” and redistribute the profit evenly among all levels of production.

Beyond not providing adequate economic conditions for farmers, the Ghanaian government often intervened in cocoa farming practices they didn’t fully understand.  When disease struck the forest belt and decimated all the plants, the Ghana Ministry of Agriculture began clearing the land, despite the native farmers being accustomed to cocoa trees recovering spontaneously over generations (Hill, 2).  Hill calls this disconnect ‘absenteeism’, in which governments or companies become responsible for handling land that they aren’t physically present on (Hill, 5). In the 1915 agricultural report, officials continued to push for the expansion of cocoa farms in the non-agriculture-based Eastern Province, where only a few people picked up cocoa farming over the common practices of logging and mining.  Instead of scaling back, British officials blamed the “apparent apathy of the natives” (Saunders et al, 7). Instances like this further show the disconnect between leaders and farmers.

But it was the transformations and innovations of labor – such as small-holding, migrant labor and agricultural expertise – that brought Ghana and Ghanaian chocolate to the presence it has today.  Overall, cocoa has had a beneficial relationship with Ghana. It provided a foundation and an outlet for Ghanaians to develop an “agricultural export economy” following their independence and cement their position as one of the top producers of cocoa in the world (Austin, 2).  The thorn carving of farmers moving bags of cocoa indicates that farmers had a strong economic drive for a personal profit in cocoa. One innovation could be to replace their bags with boxes of fermented cocoa, as explained by the newspaper article and the agricultural report to ease transportation and increase profit (Saunders et al, 7).

The two photographs of cocoa laborers were taken at a time when “planting cocoa trees became a major form of investment”, and the people who were in charge of cocoa production would – quite literally – govern the workers (Austin, 18).  Despite long-term separation from their families and harsh working conditions, farmers “insisted on changing the nature of the contract from simple wage labour to a form of managerial share-cropping” (Austin, 18). With more control over their land, farmers and migrant laborers could distance themselves from government intervention.

In the 1980s, there was a large shift in political thought about property rights that allowed small holders to develop and grow their own farms (Austin, 3).  Therefore, a co-operative like Kuapa Kokoo or a small business like Omanhene Chocolate could flourish and participate in fair trade. Interestingly, further looks into the Divine Chocolate and Wallace’s Obroni collection show images of Ghanaian workers that better illustrate the message of agency that the producers may have wanted to reflect.  Most importantly, these images place Ghanaian farmers in a global context, so the consumers that buy their chocolate will be aware of the people who make it. A consumer’s knowledge on the fair treatment of workers often comes from visual images that depict labor “as life-style choices rather than social realities” (Ramamurthy, 374). Like the newspaper article suggested, cocoa farming should be thought of as a prosperous job that an educated populace would pursue.  If companies continue to improve both their actual working conditions and their portrayals of work, consumers around the globe have a better image of the labor behind their chocolate bars.


Austin, Gareth. Labour, land, and capital in Ghana: from slavery to free labour in Asante, 1807-1956. New York: University of Rochester Press, 2005.

Burke, Peter. Eyewitnessing, The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence. London: Reaktion Books, 2001.

Garnsworthy, Al. “The Different Varieties of Cocoa Beans: Criollo, Trinitario & Forastero.” The Chocolate Society, October 23, 2010.

Hill, Polly. The migrant cocoa-farmers of southern Ghana; a study in rural capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

Historicus. [[Cocoa]]: All About It. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company, 1892.

Hollender, Jeffrey. “The Sweet Story of Divine Chocolates.” The Daily Good, June 7, 2011.

Leiter, Jeffrey, and Sandra Harding. “Trinidad, Brazil, and Ghana: Three Melting Moments in the History of Cocoa.” Journal of Rural Studies 20, no. 1 (2004), 113–30.

Moss, Sarah. “Essays - Sarah Moss - Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration & Cultural Exchange - Adam Matthew Digital.” Adam Matthew Digital, 2012.

O'Malley. Mark. “Ghana.” In Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Ramamurthy, Anandi. “Absences and Silences: The Representation of the Tea Picker in Colonial and Fair Trade Advertising.” Visual Culture in Britain 13, (2012), 367–82.

Saunders, Charles, J. S. Martinson, R. J. Coleman, E. A. Brew, E. Buckmire. “African Newspapers | Readex | ‘Agricultural Report,’” September 30, 1915.

Wallace, Steven. Obroni and the Chocolate Factory. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.

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