Cacao emerged in Latin America, and experts now agree that the most ancient varieties of the plant originated in the Amazon basin. Cacao farming is big business in the region: Peru's harvest yielded about 70,000 tonnes of beans in 2015 alone. Much of this is grown by small-scale farmers who sell their beans to middlemen who then sell to the large chocolate makers.
Global demand for chocolate is at an all time high, and is projected to continue growing. Supply, however, is not keeping up with demand: last year, the world ate 70,000 tonnes more cacao than it produced. With drought and disease threatening West Africa's harvest, chocolate companies are turning to Latin America to meet this insatiable demand.
Growth of the global chocolate market has not improved the livelihoods of cacao farmers. Consequently, some farmers in Peru are abandoning cacao in favor of more immediately profitable but environmentally devastating crops like African Palm, soy or cattle.
The craft chocolate market could help to ensure that farmers get a fair share. While craft chocolate currently makes up only a sliver of the United State's $17.7 billion chocolate market, it's growing exponentially, with consumers increasingly willing to spend $10 and up for an artisanal bar made from a new variety of cacao. A small group of social entrepreneurs are working with farmers in Peru to strengthen direct relationships and improve growing and fermentation practices.
The hope is that direct relationships will result in an improvement for artisanal chocolatiers, farmers, and the environment: chocolatiers will have access to rare breeds, farmers will get paid directly, and improved biodiversity and sustainable practices will be supported.