Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa
Zed Books 2011
When was the last time you ate some chocolate? If you live in the developed world there’s a strong chance that you’ve been munching on some fairly recently. At the basic level chocolate is an everyday treat and at the top end it is a seriously indulgent luxury product. But how much thought have you ever put into where that chocolate comes from and how it touches the lives of those involved in making it – and the countries in which they live?
If you live in the parts of Africa at the centre of the world’s cocoa crop it is unlikely that you’ve ever tasted chocolate in its final, consumer form. In places like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana cocoa is a crop, a commodity and a mainstay of the economy. Orla Ryan‘s Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa (Zed Books, 2011) is an attempt to tease out the complex interplay between cocoa, the farmers who grow it and the fortunes of the wider societies. She examines issues like child slavery (a favourite campaign subject for international rock stars) and whether programmes like ‘Fairtrade’ can produce a genuinely better deal for poor farmers (she argues that what has really improved the lot of Ghanaian farmers is democracy).
Whether you’re interested in the economics of cocoa, want to view the situation in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire through the lens of this crucial commodity, or are simply curious about where the chocolate bar that you have in your bag really comes from, I recommend reading this book. Orla is a journalist, and that means that she is very able to present complex information and arguments clearly, and pick out what the most important parts of an issue are. The result is a fascinating book. I hope you enjoy the interview.
NB: Although the book is already out in Britain, the paperback version is being published in the US on May 8th.