Africa & Science – Afrika & Wissenschaft – Afrique & Science

Nr. 00265- 9th Jan. 2024 – Weekly Newspaper devoted to Science & Technology in Africa ** Pour la promotion de l'esprit scientifique en Afrique

Child slavery in cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast and other African countries: can we prevent it?

Photo-Adrien Janv 2014Frantz fanon in his book “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961) described the dehumanizing effects of colonization upon local populations in colonised societies. He mainly stressed the decline in mental health derived from imperialism. Many other authors such as Mongo Beti, Wole Soyinka, Aime Cesaire, Chinua Achebe, etc. have described the broader social, cultural, and political implications inherent to establishing a social movement for decolonization. More than 50 years after several wave of fights for African freedom, Africa is still home to different vulnerabilities mainly because our freedom has been stolen and also because in general, those who have been in power have never gotten the courage, the authority or the wisdom to lead the countries in the direction that will liberate African initiative. In this context, the fight for Africa’s freedom will not be left to the hands of politicians, who are mainly controlled by Western nations. More than ever, the implication of the civil society in Africa is needed as well as that of the so called diaspora and/or all those who have been deported voluntary or not from their Africa home to other countries. No significant result cannot be reached without the implication of all those who every day in the continent are struggling and juggling between hope, affliction or desperation. I would invite you to follow with measupposedorrealproblemin our society: “child slavery in plantations in Africa” and discuss the imperialism Africa is still facing today. I also invite the readers to question our responsibility and to propose actions needed for change.

Imperialism of Western companies and children exploitation

Chocolate bars are common in the daily lives of modern families in Western developed countries: European States, US, Canada, Australia, and other industrialized countries. The cocoa beans from which those chocolate bars are produced come from cocoa plantations, mainly in Africa. The main producers are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Togo. There have been many reports denouncing child abuse and human exploitation in the plantations. According to UNICEF, there are 200 000 children working in cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast. Danish journalist Miki Mistrati traveled to Ivory Coast to investigate about child trafficking, exploitation and abuse in plantations, despite the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol—an agreement restricting the use of children to harvest cocoa beans that was signed by major chocolate companies. The following video which is the result of an investigation made by Miki Mistrati highlights the extent of the crisis:

Government officials in these African countries claim these allegations to be untrue and some of us may also watch this video as western propaganda and a denigration of cacao sector which represents one of the most important contributors for the Gross domestic product (GDP) in those African countries. Nevertheless, we have to recognize that rural exodus represents up to more than 60% of the population. The category of Africa’s population mostly affected by rural exodus is the active part of the youth which represents an important problem for rural development; it is also a threat for the long term exploitation of large cocoa farms and other plantations in the rural sector.

BBC has also made a similar investigation as we will discover in the following video

This video shows that there is no mechanisation in the farms and as a result the use of the youth is the common solution for a continuous supply of the chocolate market. The problem has also been investigated recently by Richard Quest from CNN. José Lopez, executive vice President of Nestle and Responsible for Global operations admitted during this report that there is a problem of child abuse in the cocoa plantation and proposed as solution construction of new schools as their attempt to solve this problem. The investigation conducted by Richard Quest may comfort to many the idea of propaganda than a real engagement to support this sector. For instance, the panel discussion which followed this investigation failed in terms of African representation in the discussion and the debate mostly focused on child human rights and the construction of schools as solution for the kids. None of these investigations has addressed the precarious and low income of farmers, mechanization of the sector which may definitely reduce the dependence from youth labour and local processing of the product that will produce higher added value. The paragraph below analyses the price chain in the cocoa sector.

A study of the price line of this sector, as we learn from these investigations, shows that the price of the kilo of cocoa at the plantation level is 1 Eur. The cocoa is bought from farmers by National exporter or the stock exchange companies such as SAF CACAO who sell the beans at 2.5 Eur per kilo to the chocolate companies mostly European companies such as Nestle, Cargill, EDM and Barry callebaut, Kraft, Mars. 1 kilo bought at 1 Eur from farmers produces 14 chocolate bars providing to a giant company such as Nestle a profit of about 12 Million Eur per year and to intermediaries such as SAF CACAO a profit of about 135 000 Eur per year. At the same time the indigenous farmers who own plantations and produce the raw material for the chain are all living in extreme poverty and are obliged to use their kids left in the village to work with them to serve the giant companies interest and Western nations who are the main consumers of chocolate.

African responsibilities

Slavery, colonization and neo-colonization have contributed to put in power leaders that serve mostly interest of Western nations than those of their citizens. Most of the attempts of significant change through political leaderships have failed in most of the countries including Ivory Coast. Despite the significant number of intellectuals that Africa has in and outside the continent since in-dependence, their contribution for the use of our natural resource remains marginal and a big challenge for our nations. Therefore, we have to question ourselves on the role of intellectuals, of civil society and also of citizen and leaders.

Can child dependence in plantations be solved or prevented?

The most efficient solution in the plantations in Africa is mechanization through appropriate technologies which are compatible to the size and type of products in the farms. Training and support of farmers to new techniques that will help maximize profits, products and avoid dependence on kids left in the village may also contribute to resolving this problem. These solutions need cooperation and the active implication of multinational companies involved in this sector and also of African elites. These multinational companies may never have interests in African development unless they are forced to. I will discuss in the following lines how African elites can support farmers and help implementing changes.

The formidable weapon of Africans is training and understanding of science, and also the best use of it for our liberation. One of the greatest African scientist Cheikh anta diop reminded this responsibility to African in “Nations, nègres et culutre”. As leaders in our society, we need to have interest in all the processes that can help not only to mechanize cocoa and other products in the farms, but also in any transformation that will give value added to the products and avoid dependence from multi-national companies. It is also our responsibilities to have interest in the circuit of commercialization to make sure that our farmers get decent prices from their products. In China for instance small farmers use small machineries well adapted for most of the farming; we have to learn from some of these practices and adapt when it is possible to our farms.

Neither God, nor Western Nations, nor multi-national companies will solve these problems. The solutions are with us and we have to think about it. It needs constant work, perseverance and cooperation with other nations which have faced the same problems and have developed solutions. Of course the implication of the government is important at many levels. For instance if introducing machineries at a significant level in the farms is adopted as a solution, then reducing custom fees can be an option to lower the cost of the machines that will be imported. I believe individual participation is the key; each one at own level depending on personal resources, background and education has to do something. Individual efforts need coordination through foundation, association, corporation or small businesses to have more power. The support and implication of the research institutions is also a key for development of this sector. We cannot continue to leave multinational having millions of dollar per day while our farmers are starving in the village. It is our responsibility to act now!

I will end this paper with some videos showing how chocolate bars can be produced locally. Please learn from these videos and teach those techniques to farmers in your village. It is important to create a positive dream, a dream of hope, a dream of change. If you have any problem or if you need help, please contact me. 

1. Traditional production of chocolate

2. Home made chocolate with modern equipment

3. How to temper chocolate and give different forms to chocolate

4. A story of cocoa and chocolate bars

The author:
Adrien Djomo, PhD
Queen’s University

Comments are currently closed.