Cocoa-growing is an important source of capital for many countries in the tropical world. In West Africa alone, there are over 2.5 million cocoa farmers. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, combined, produce over 60% of the world’s cocoa, the vast majority of which comes from smallholders, farming families that typically own about 5 hectares of land.
Cocoa-growing countries rely heavily on cocoa bean sales for foreign exchange. Cocoa accounts for 28% and 90% of Ghana’s and Côte d’Ivoire’s foreign exchange earnings, respectively.
Cocoa-farming is a rapidly growing sector of the world’s tropical agriculture. For example, Vietnamese farmers are moving aggressively into cocoa-growing. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea are important cocoa growing countries. As Venezuela’s share of the world’s oil production diminishes, cocoa-farming becomes an increasingly important part of their agricultural economy.
For more than 150 years, cocoa growing has suffered from inattentiveness, like tea and coffee. For the longest time, it was produced by poor farmers, and First World countries were content to benefit from trade inequalities. Today, as the Third World exerts increasing pressure on the First World, demanding ever larger portions of the economic pie, First World educational institutions can no longer afford to ignore the role tropical products play in the world’s economy.
Most cocoa study is still done by cocoa research institutes (e.g. Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana) by PhD’s who have developed expertise in specific research areas such as methods of intercropping for increasing yields or such as new cocoa varieties that mature earlier and yield better. Such institutes are generally supported by governments of cocoa-growing countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. They are typically located separately from villages and there is minimal contact between such research institutes and cocoa farmers.
However, it is very important for Western universities to recognize the importance of studying tropical agriculture, not just as yet one more example of agriculture, but from a holistic view. Cocoa farming is more than just growing a fruit-bearing plant. It includes the cocoa-growing village, the middlemen, buyers, shippers and processors.
This proposal is to establish 17 cocoa study centers for the express purpose of housing undergraduate and graduate students interested in studying villages that grow cocoa. Such students would have disparate academic backgrounds (e.g., International Nutrition, Rural Sociology, International Economics, Food Science, Engineering). Typically, they would spend 1-4 weeks in a village as part of a course run at their academic institution.