The cocoa tree originated in South America, where it was an integral part of many cultures. The beans of this tree are processed into cocoa, which is the basic ingredient of chocolate. This tree is known as “Theobroma cacao” in Latin; Theobroma translates to “food of the gods.” Cocoa beans are grown in three major regions.
The South American countries of Brazil and Ecuador are the leading cocoa producers in that region of the world. Other Caribbean, Central and South American countries that grow cocoa beans include Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Columbia, Venezuela and Peru. The cocoa tree is native to the Amazon River basin, where it still grows wild in 2010. As use of the cocoa bean became more widespread (and agricultural methods improved), the tree spread throughout this equatorial region.
The cocoa tree was later exported to the equatorial regions of West Africa bcause of the growing popularity of chocolate. Cocoa was first introduced to Africa in Ghana in 1879. Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) are the leading producers of cocoa beans in West Africa, and cocoa from Ghana is considered some of the best in the world. Cote d'Ivoire is the world's leading cocoa bean producer, supplying 40 percent of the world's cocoa beans. However, cocoa beans are also grown in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon, Gabon, Fernando Po, São Tomé, Equatorial Guinea and the Congo. Cocoa is grown almost entirely on small, family owned and operated farms throughout West Africa.
Cocoa is a relatively recent addition to the agriculture of Asia. The leading producers on this continent are Indonesia and Malaysia; they are quickly becoming some of the biggest producers in the world in 2010. Other Asian growers include Sabah, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Fiji Islands and Western Samoa. Asian cocoa beans are grown on small farms as well as larger public and private plantations.