The dark secret of chocolate – How can we support sustainable cocoa cultivation?

Chocolate is a coveted sweet in Germany: with a per capita consumption of around 8.6 kg per year, Germany is second only to Switzerland in terms of global per capita consumption.

Most of the cocoa in our chocolate comes from the two main producing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana. In these two West African countries, about 2/3 of the world’s cocoa is grown by about 2 million small farmers. The price paid to the farmers is low: According to a study from 2018, the per capita income from cocoa in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is estimated at around 0.78 dollars per day (Cocoa Barometer, 2018).

Recent studies emphasize that although cocoa certification can ensure that a higher price reaches cocoa farmers, certification alone cannot guarantee a living wage and sustainable cocoa cultivation. The latter includes the problem of deforestation, as described in a study by the NGO “Mighty Earth”: If the soils are no longer fertile, the cocoa-growing area is simply expanded. Due to the lack of state regulations, intact and often protected forests are often destroyed in this shift of cultivation areas. The deforestation of rainforests has a negative impact on the climate, as it destroys the largest carbon reservoir on our planet. Intermediaries and international chocolate companies who buy this cocoa are also responsible. These briefly mentioned problems underline the importance of sustainable cocoa cultivation and a living wage for cocoa farmers. The development of possible solution strategies, how we as chocolate consumers can promote a sustainable cocoa value chain and prevent deforestation are questions of resource economics and this YES! challenge.

  • How can we help cocoa farmers in West Africa earn a better income and grow cocoa more sustainably?
  • How can we as consumers encourage multinational companies to pay more attention to their cocoa’s origin and the associated deforestation?
  • A higher price per bar of chocolate as a solution?
  • How can we determine whether the population would be willing to pay a higher price for chocolate in favor of farmers or the climate?
  • How can awareness of deforestation caused by cocoa farming be raised in society so that society is willing to pay a higher price?
  • What political measures could be used to enforce a higher price?
  • Is reducing chocolate consumption a solution?
  • Which political measures could reduce chocolate consumption?
  • Other certifications/labels that focus more on deforestation?

Must-Read – you should read this article before the kick-off meeting:

Hütz-Adams, Friedel und Schneeweiß, Antje (2018): Pricing in the cocoa value chain – causes and effects. GIZ und Südwind Institut. Link:

Further Literature:

Bymolt, R., Laven, A., Tyszler, M. (2018). Demystifying the cocoa sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).

Higonnet, Etelle; Bellantonio, Marisa; Hurowitz, Glenn (2017): Chocolate’s dark secret. How the cocoa industry destroys national parks. Mighty Earth.

Hütz-Adams, Friedel und Fountain, Antonie (2018): Cocoa barometer. The Voice Network.

Kroeger, Alan; Bakhtary, Haseebullah; Haupt, Franziska; Streck, Charlotte (2017): Eliminating Deforestation from the Cocoa Supply Chain. The World Bank Group.

Wessel, Marius; Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke (2015): Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences.

Scientific Partner:

Mentors of the school teams and authors of the topic:

Gunther Bensch

Gunther Bensch RWI

Photo: (c) RWI

Gunther Bensch is researcher in the department “Environment and Resources” at RWI. His general fields of research are environment and energy economics and policy, with a special emphasis on the empirical evaluation of development policies such as improved cookstoves and electrification interventions.

He has been conducting large-scale household and enterprise surveys in Indonesia, India and several countries across Africa. Related works have been published in journals such as Journal of Health Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Land Economics, and Journal of Development Effectiveness.

His research interests are Energy and Environmental Economics, Development Economics, Impact Evaluation, Applied Econometrics.

Kathrin Kaestner

Kathrin Kaestner RWI

Photo: (c) RWI

Kathrin Kaestner has been working as a researcher in the research unit “Environment and Resources” at RWI since January 2020. She studied economics (B.Sc.) at the University of Münster and at the Nagoya University of Commerce and Business, Japan. After an internship at RWI in spring 2017, she studied Economics (M.Sc.) at the University of Cologne.

Her research interests: Experimental Economics, Applied Econometrics, Behavioral Economics, Environmental Economics, Energy Economics, Development Economics.