Bitter Sweet Dutch Chocolate Industry

Living in a city comes with lifestyles created for the functioning and identity formation of city actors and its citizens. They portray how modern one has become by undertaking that lifestyle. Indeed one such lifestyle is associated with chocolate. Occasions such as Valentine and Easter are linked with the giving of chocolates as signs of showing love.  The celebration of Valentine’s Day, Easter have been synonymous with the use of chocolates within Dutch communities.


Their use has created a certain lifestyle which identifies one as being from a city and also seen as a “modern” citizen. The use of chocolates shows how much you love or care about someone.  The increase of this lifestyle has led to the institutionalization of chocolatier competitions such as Benelux Chocolatier Competition organised in big cities of the North such as Brussels and Amsterdam.

Cocoa also known as Theobroma cacao meaning the ‘food of the gods’, originated from the rainforests of Central America where on “modern maps, southern Mexico Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras are located”(Bond, 2011). Bond explains that “The discovery and early use of cocoa are intimately linked with the ancient cultures of these areas – the Olmec’s (1500–400 bc), Mayans culture (250–900 ad) and later the Aztecs (ca. 800 AD to mid-sixteenth century)”.

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The Mayans first started using the cocoa as a drink for its elites to the extent that the beans were used as currency(Bond, 2011). This cash crop has maintained its importance in society from being cultivated in countries in West Africa to importing countries like the Netherlands. Being able to produce much more tonnes a year reflects in the foreign exchange a  country earns. The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO), 2018 quotes the price of cocoa at $2386.23 per tonne as at the 16 of July 2018.

“The Netherlands used to be the world’s main importer of cocoa beans having lost the spot to Belgium in 2016 and the second largest cocoa grinder” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CBI 2017.    The Dutch ministry of Foreign affairs states that the Dutch spend around 23 euros per capita on chocolate products in 2015 and the Dutch are noted to have increased exports of semi-finished cocoa products between 2014 and 2015 by 6%. The ministry also reports in 2015 that trend watchers in the Netherlands say ‘the Dutch increasingly want a high-quality chocolate and are willing to pay for that quality”. This makes chocolate making one of the urban lifestyles of luxury in the Dutch society. Being inquisitive enough, I decided to investigate where the cocoa used in Delft comes from. The city of Delft is noted to have some of the best chocolate firms in the Netherlands. Visiting the chocolate firm of Van Der Burgh I asked: “where does your cocoa come from “? The woman happily said “Ivory coast”.  This confirms the information by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CBI 2017 that, The Netherlands imports roughly 85% of cocoa beans from West Africa and some from Latin America.

Main Suppliers of  Cocoa Beans to the Netherlands in 2O16


The city of Delft boasts of one of the best chocolate firms in the Netherlands which is not only handmade and of high quality, but also hand packaged. To Van Der Burgh, ‘chocolate must always be a present”. This ideology has enabled the firm to carve a brand for itself, having evolved from a small beginning to their present-day location in the historic city centre. Being a tourist destination that attracts all kinds of people from different countries.



Delft is increasingly becoming a market for different nationalities. The historic city centre boasts of hosting social events and markets that invites people of all walks of life. The citing of this small handmaid chocolate firm is not only patronised by the Dutch but all manner of people from different cultures. This brand has catapulted them into having cooperation with Michelin Star Chef Niven Kunz, who is seen as the best ‘vegetable chef” in the Netherlands. Again the company can boast of another cooperation with KLM enabling them to serve passengers with the best of chocolate by Van Der Burgh.



Africa during the colonial times produced raw materials for industries in the global north and such was Cocoa. As remnants of colonization, West African countries produce two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans. With the Ivory Coast being the first and Ghana taking the second highest exporter according to the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) 2017, cocoa Barometer. For cocoa to be exported, it needs strategic preparation by both farmers and governments of the two countries to ensure maximum yields. In Ghana, the Ghana Cocoa Board borrows to buy the cocoa from the farmers for exports.


Before the cocoa is being exported, it needs to go through a process of fermentation for some days before drying. This fermentation is important to have a certain quality of beans. Traditionally designed mats made of bamboo serves as driers which makes it easier to fold when the rains are about to fall. The drying takes about two weeks before a farmer can sell it to the cocoa buyers in the various villages.


The coming of such an industry has encouraged migration from the northern part of Ghana to the southwestern region where the climate favours the growing of cocoa plants. The situation has led to the problem of encroaching originally forest and game reserves for the planting of cocoa trees. This region has been the highest cocoa producing region since 1985/86 crop season till date (Ghana Cocoa Board, 2017). This situation led to the involvement of child labour on cocoa farms which surfaced in the 2000s and become a worldwide issue for prominent business firms(Schrage & Ewing, 2005) According to Mighty Earth in 2017 that about 2.1m hectares and 820,000 hectares of forests were cleared in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana respectively due to cocoa production over the decade.


Creating a city lifestyle in itself creates opportunities not only in that city but also for the countries from which it gets its raw materials.  To be able to maximize the benefits this endeavour brings, Countries in such situations should have had measures to regulate and monitor what happens in this industry. The lifestyle associated with chocolate in cities like Delft should create positive consequences for cities where the cocoa is grown in West Africa. The question is, must this lifestyle be at the expense of Forest and game reserves or innocent children drawn into child labour? After over a century of producing cocoa for this lifestyle living in the global north, should Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire be talking about Forest encroachment and child labour issues at this time?


About the Author:
George Blankson Appah is an Economist currently studying  Water Management And Governance at IHE-Delft, The Netherlands



Bond, T. J. (2011). The origins of tea, coffee and cocoa as beverages. Tea, cocoa and coffee: plant secondary metabolites and health. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 1-24.
Schrage, E. J., & Ewing, A. P. (2005). The cocoa industry and child labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship(18).

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