Now that we’ve gorged ourselves on Easter chocolate, how about “the bitter taste of cocoa farming”? This is the subtitle of the book Chocolaté, recently published by Écosociété.
We have known for some time that all is not rosy in the chocolate industry, especially with regard to the living and working conditions of African producers. Many reports and documentaries have been broadcast on the subject. Just (re)watch the cocoa episode of the Netflix Pourri series, released in 2019.
But now Samy Manga arrives with a much more poetic, personal and, therefore, powerful story. Son Chocolaté tells the story of Abéna, who, at the age of 10, worked in the plantations of Cameroon with her grandfather. We see him gradually take the measure of the disaster of this culture which decimates the forests as much as the men, women and children. The “white man” who came to exploit the African worker and the corrupt local politicians certainly take it for granted in this book.
As Abena grows, learns, leaves to study and work away from her village, the flowery-tongued story changes a bit to become more informative and deliver facts and figures about the chocolate industry. Big names are scratched, false promises of fairness are exposed, and exploitation (not to say modern slavery) comes to light.
“Cocoa comes from the Americas, the Mayas, not Africa, recalls Samy Manga. The plant followed the movements of the settlers. It was France that brought cocoa to Africa, that imposed it. Its monoculture has wiped out many foods that were used to feed families. Cocoa is not a food that is part of our diet. It is not consumed on site, ”continues the one who currently lives in Switzerland.
Nevertheless, Africa today produces 80% of the cocoa in the world. Countries only reap 6% of the 100 billion (2021 figure from the International Cocoa Council) that the industry generates, and what goes to growers is around 2%. Côte d’Ivoire is the most invested, with 40% of world production. There, two-thirds of the jobs would be linked to it, according to the program Pourri.
When you think about it, you realize that in the West, cocoa is everywhere, and in large quantities. From top-of-the-range products made by chocolate makers to very low-cocoa candy bars from the convenience store, to the nuggets of supermarket cookies.
“In the days of the Maya, chocolate was heavenly. It was a divine ingredient, tells us the author in videoconference. It has become extremely vulgar which leads to overconsumption. It is urgent that we return to moderation, to sobriety. Chocolate should be consumed sensibly. No one is going to die from eating less chocolate. Human beings have been able to invent many beautiful things. We can invent a new relationship with life. We can see that we are out of step with the planet,” implores the self-described “eco-poet.”
It was first in Geneva that the book was released. Samy Manga also participated in the Brussels Book Fair. People in the industry bought his autofiction. “From the title, readers first think it’s a cookbook. I have fun telling them not to read the subtitle, which could discourage them. »
The famous “bean to bar” movement was born precisely from this desire for cocoa traceability, from a renewed respect for this precious product and those who are its guardians.
At the State of Shock store, which opened almost five years ago, manager Maud Gaudreau sees that people are asking more and more questions. “But they are still at the stage of finding out about the origin for primarily taste reasons. »
To make their confectionery, their Easter eggs, their bars, etc., the State of Shock chocolate makers only use couverture chocolate made locally from the cocoa bean by the companies Monarque and Qantu, whose traceability is flawless. It’s a very rare thing, with the majority of chocolatiers in the world doing business with bigger players in the industry, like Valrhona at best, or Barry Callebaut, a giant who was heavily criticized in the book, but not as much as Nestlé, Cargill and Lindt.
In Montreal, we also saw the arrival of Amango, a chocolate factory run by a couple of Ivorian origin, Lydie and Gogbeu Ouehi. Former cocoa workers, the Ouehi wanted to improve the lot of those who remained in Côte d’Ivoire and work in the worst conditions.
To encourage more equitable structures and to limit its carbon footprint, among other things, Catherine Goulet has instead chosen to source from Central and South America. The products of his company Avanaa are made from cocoa purchased in Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, among other places. She visited the plantations that supply her.
“As far as I know, the cultivation of cocoa there is very different. The land is smaller and it is not as much monoculture as in Africa. The systems implemented in Africa are designed for large volumes, for multinationals. I did not see how I could fit in there and be certain of the origins, for traceability. »
According to Catherine Goulet, artisans like her are part of the solution. They are already engaged in a logic of “less but better”. “The amount of artisanal chocolate that we will consume is really less. There is a lot more cocoa in a bar. It is of better quality and it has a lot of taste. »
What would be the other solutions to this situation which leads us straight into the wall, on the humanitarian and ecological levels? we ask Samy Manga. “We must live together or die together. Everything is bound to change. In Africa, there is an awareness of African youth. What if African countries decide to rebel and stop selling their cocoa? If we continue to allow ourselves to be exploited, we are also accomplices. It takes African self-determination. »