The history of cocoa in Brazil
The first reports about chocolate are from the period in which the Maya and Aztec lived in the American continent. They made a very coveted drink, prepared with ground cacao seeds, pepper and other spices. In addition, the seeds of the fruit were used as currency. When the first Spanish settlers discovered America, cocoa was already cultivated by the natives.
Officially, the cultivation of this plant began in Brazil in 1679, with the publication of a Royal Charter, which allowed the settlers to plant it in their lands.
In 1746, the first cacao tree plantation took place in Bahia, in the Cubículo farm, located by the Pardo River, current City of Canavieiras. The colonizer Antonio Dias Ribeiro was the responsible for the planting, who brought the seeds from the State of Pará to the new regional culture.
In 1752, cocoa arrived at the city of Ilheus, which became the major pole for cocoa in Bahia, with Brazil’s largest exporter port.
Since 1860, cocoa became an object of desire of chocolate factories in Europe and the United States. Nearly all the crop was exported, because there was not the habit of eating the fruit and its derivatives in Brazil. The first domestic manufactures only appeared at the turn of the twentieth century, period that was the peak of the cocoa cultivation.
Brazil has occupied the world’s largest producer until the mid-1920s. In the same period, southern Bahia region was the scenery to a real war between farmers: the powerful ‘Colonels’ - humble descendants of those early pioneers – went to great lengths and even violence to grow their business through the appropriation of crops that belonged to minor farmers.
In early 1990’s, cocoa farms were subject to a plague called witche’s broom, which destroyed whole crops, leading the Colonels to bankruptcy.
Caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa (formerly Crinipellis perniciosa), witche’s broom is generally known by this name for leaving cocoa branches dry as an old broom. The disease was discovered in 1895 in Suriname, and had already shown its devastating power when, in 1920, destroyed the cocoa plantations of Ecuador.
When the disease arrived in Bahia in 1989, probably coming from the Amazon region, production fell from 390.000 tons in 1988 to 123.000 in 2000.
The southern region of Bahia produces 95% of Brazilian cocoa, leaving the State of Espírito Santo with 3,5% of the production and the Amazon region with 1.5%.
Brazil is the 5th largest producer of cocoa. Most production comes from West Africa, where the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria produces 65% of cocoa consumed in the world.
Over the past 50 years, world production of beans increased from nearly 800.000 tons annually to 3 million tons.