Global production of cocoa is concentrated effectively in the regions between 10° north and 10° south of the Equator. Cocoa was first imported to Spain from South America by Hernando Cortez in 1528. In an unsuccessful attempt to satisfy the growing demands of the Spanish court, an early effort to expand cultivation of cocoa was made in the Caribbean. Finally, in 1635, cocoa was successfully cultivated in Ecuador by the Capuchin monastic order.
At the end of the 17th century, other European nations succeeded in establishing cocoa production in regions conducive to its cultivation throughout the Caribbean and South America: Curacao (Holland), Jamaica (Great Britain), Martinique and St Lucia, the Dominican Republic (known as Hispaniola in the 17th century), Brazil (Portugal), Guyana and Grenada (France).
During the 19th century, increasing demand for cocoa led to its introduction in Africa, including Principe, Sao Tome, Fernando Po, Nigeria and Ghana. Between 1925 and 1939, African production expanded to Cameroon, concurrent with its colonization. Trinitario cocoa was also introduced to Sri Lanka (Ceylan) for the first time in 1834, then reintroduced in 1880. Subsequently, Cocoa was planted in Singapore, the Fijian and Samoan Islands, Tanzania, Madagascar and Java. In Europe cocoa was originally consumed as a beverage. Innovations as a result of industrial development gradually reduced the costs of production and led to the development of solid chocolate on a wide scale. Chocolate steadily became more broadly available, and, by the end of the 19th century, was considered a basic food element of the typical French family.
There is a stark distinction between ordinary cocoa and fine or aromatic cocoa. Ordinary cocoa, derived from the Forastero variety of cocoa tree, represents 95% of world production. Fine or aromatic cocoa derived from the Criollo and Trinitario varieties accounts for only 5% of world production. West Africa, which supplies approximately 70% of global output, is easily the most important cocoa production region in the world in terms of economics. The most important individual countries are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Among non-African countries producing significant amounts of cocoa are Indonesia, Brazil, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Malaysia.
As a result of their importance in terms of world production, West African producers are seeking to increase their cocoa output. Cocoa growing represents an important source of revenue for large numbers of small farm-owners. Most plantations are family farms of 2-10 hectares. This production is particularly significant in national economic terms because local demand for cocoa is relatively weak and therefore almost all production is for export. In Africa, cocoa beans are generally harvested in September and October, although the season can continue until January or March.
South American production represented approximately 14% of world production in 2002/2003 (418,000 tons). The original source of cocoa, Brazil, remained the largest producer throughout the 19th century. Although overtaken by West African countries in overall production, Brazil retains its place of primacy in Latin America (output of 163,000 tons of cocoa in 2002/2003). Production is concentrated in large-scale plantations. Ecuador takes second place with 78,000 tons. Other important producers in this region, including Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, produce a total of approximately 170,000 tons. Production levels are quite vulnerable to climate changes and parasites which can damage the fruit or in some instances destroy the entire tree. Within the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic represents approximately 2% of world production. Other producers include Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada.
Beginning in the mid 1980s, Malaysia emerged as one of the principal sources of cocoa, providing 450,000 hectares of production by 1989. During the 1990s, Malaysia was overtaken by Indonesia, which gained 17% of total world production in 2001-2002. While Malaysia has been deploying a policy to diversify its agricultural output, Indonesia has been keenly focused on expanding cocoa production. As in Latin America, most Asian production occurs on larger, more industrialized farms.
Traditionally, cocoa is cultivated in producing countries and sold for export in the form of beans. Importing countries then process the beans, transforming the raw goods into finished or semi-finished products (cocoa butter, cocoa liqueur, cocoa powder, etc.). In recent years, in an effort to increase the value of exports, some producer countries, such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil, have developed their own facilities for grinding beans.
World consumption is estimated at 2 800 000 tons per year. The largest cocoa importers are Europe (more than 1.2 million tons per year) and the United States (0.4 million tons per year). The largest importers are Holland, the US, Germany, Britain and Brazil.