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Higher Chocolate Prices May Follow Africa's Cocoa Shortfall

Ivory Coast cocoa farmers are switching to more predictable crops
Ivorian workers empty bags of cocoa beans set for export
Ivorian workers empty bags of cocoa beans set for exportPhotograph by Issouf Sanogo/Getty Images

This Valentine’s Day, Americans will spend a record $1.05 billion on chocolate and candy, according to the National Confectioners Association. But while Mamert Kablan Angora helps keep sweethearts sweet by growing cocoa on part of the 15 hectares (37 acres) of Ivory Coast land his family has farmed for generations, his 31-year-old son with the same name prefers an office job in the nation’s biggest city. “I have seen my parents suffering in hoping that days will be better in growing cocoa, but the situation is deteriorating year after year,” says Mamert’s son, who works at an import/export firm in Abidjan, where he can use his master’s degree in business. “Cocoa can no longer allow someone to take care of oneself or of a family.”

Villagers in West Africa, which produces 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, are abandoning the crop because its price is volatile, farms are too small to be economical, yields haven’t risen for decades, and alternative crops such as rubber are more lucrative. “Everybody is worried that the farmer is living on the edge of poverty,” says Barry Parkin, the head of global procurement and sustainability at Mars, whose products include M&M’s, the best-selling chocolate candy in the U.S. “They produce half a ton per hectare of cocoa, and it has been that way forever. All major agricultural products have improved their yields by a factor of 5 to 10 in the last 50 years, and cocoa hasn’t.”