Cocoa's Impact on Land and Children

With lesson suggestions, discussion questions and research prompts learn about cocoa and chocolate for possible health benefit, the cause of deforestation and cocoa farmers’ continued use of child labor.
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Cocoa plants grow primarily in countries near the equator with tropical rainforests. The source of such sweet delights as chocolate mousse and rich chocolate cakes, chocolate chips and hot chocolate, Mars and Dove bars and Godiva confectionery is also the source of major deforestation and use of child laborers.


This curriculum guide is divided into three considerations based in Washington Post coverage. The first searches to find a healthy benefit in chocolate consumption.

“The trouble with chocolate,” the second, examines the impact of cocoa farms, often very small patches in rainforests. This, and the next focus, takes readers to West African countries of Ghana and Ivory Coast, the major producer of cocoa beans. Collectively, the clearing of tropical forests has deforestation taking place at a fast pace.


The third consideration is the very serious issue of the use of child laborers. Some are children of the cocoa farmers, but most are brought in from Burkina Faso and impoverished neighboring countries. As young as 12, these boys work in dangerous situations.. Reporter Peter Whoriskey and photojournalist Salwan Georges were eyewitnesses to this practice. “Cocoa’s child laborers” presents the many perspectives and attempts to stop use of children on the farms




January 2020

Getting to the Facts
Resource Graphic

What is cocoa?
Economics, Health, Home Economics


Begin by asking students about the products they associate with “cocoa.” Teachers may also ask about the events students associate with “cocoa.” Teachers may write on the board terms and events so students can categorize the kinds of products (beverage, sweet, health) and events (daily experience, cold weather only, special days).


Give students “A closer look at this confectionery” to read and discuss. Chocolate is differentiated by percentage of cocoa and its possible health benefit. If sugar were not added to it, would chocolate be as popular?   “Chocolate’s Reputation and Reality” begins with five questions based on this summary.


“Is chocolate healthy? My bitter answer.” is more extensive examination of the potential health of eating chocolate and flavanols that are referred to in the shorter piece. Questions 6 and 7 in “Chocolate’s Reputation and Reality” may be asked before reading the article. In what ways do students change their responses after reading the article?


Map It
Geography, Social Studies

Cocoa is grown in areas other than Western Africa. Originating in South and Central America, cocoa beans are now grown in tropical regions around the world. Ask students to locate 15 degrees to the north and south of the equator. What countries are located here? What conditions exist to make this an ideal area to grow cocoa?


Find Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Brazil. They are among the top ten countries that grow cocoa. Locate Colombia, Ghana and Ivory Coast, the top supplier of the world’s cocoa beans. These latter countries will be the focus of the articles in this guide.


Give students “Map It: Cocoa in West Africa.” Locate the African countries that are leaders in the world’s cocoa bean production.


At the end of this exercise, students should be able to locate cocoa-growing countries on a map or globe. They will have an understanding of the temperature and climate needed to successfully grow the plants.


Want to Boycott Cocoa?

Business, Home Economics, Personal Finance

What if the home baker decides not to use chocolate when baking? Ask students to name alternative ingredients. Give students the FOOD section article to read, “The best butterscotch, mint and peanut butter baking chips for when you need a chocolate alternative.” Note that there are links to recipes in this article.


The article is an example of a review — in this case, a comparison of ingredients.

Being aware of any students with food allergies, teachers might have two to four packages of different chocolate chips, of the alternatives to chocolate chips or cookies from different companies. Ask students to rate the items: flavor, texture, color, after taste.


Source Your Meals

Business, Ethics, Geography, Government, Health, Home Economics, Social Studies

One step toward food source awareness is growing a plant from seeds. Another would be to guess what fruit or vegetable grew on the plants, pods, trees and vines that are pictured.


An awareness of labels on items found in the grocery store is another source of the origins of the foods students eat. For the latter, teachers might ask students to picture or bring labels on food items to class. These labels may indicate the country of origin, the state or ranch on which bred or grown. What other information is provided by the store or label? Why would we want to know where our foods came from?


You may also select a food item provided in your school lunch program. Where are the ingredients purchased? Any provided by the USDA Food program?


“From Plate to Soil: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of Your Meals” activity provides steps to take to investigate the source of an item from students’ meals. Students may work in pairs to see how far they can determine the source of a food item. Are locally grown or farmers market purchases easier to follow? Someone in your school community who is a food and nutrition expert or familiar with the USDA Food program would be an interesting guest speaker.


This activity may be used with “Cocoa’s child laborers” as well.

Cocoa Industry Online
Resource Graphic 

Map It
Botany, Business, Economics, Environmental Science, Geography, Government

Discuss with students the different types of maps: political, physical, topographic, climate, economic, resource, road and thematic.


Give students, “Map It: Deforestation in West Africa.” What kind of information is conveyed? What might you learn if you had a similar map from 10 years earlier?


Teachers may wish to use “Map It: Cocoa in West Africa” for a comparison/contrast of the maps. Identify the type of map and information.


What Is Deforestation?

Botany, English, Environmental Science, Geography

Forests around the world are disappearing. For this study we are focusing on the tropical forests that, according to Global Forest Watch, in 2017 were lost at a rate of 40 football fields every minute.


Define deforestation. Discuss the distribution, classification and economic importance of rainforests and their loss. 


What is Cocoa’s Role in Deforestation?

Botany, Business, Economics, Government

When taking a bite out of a chocolate chip cookie, we may think of the brand of chocolate used in the recipe. Few consider the country in which the cocoa beans were grown. “The trouble with chocolate” awakens us to where and what is happening to the forests in those countries.


Before reading Steven Mufson’s article, review the informational graphic. Which countries produce the most cocoa? Locate these countries on a map. Read and discuss the background and issues presented. Teachers may assign the four sections of the article for students to re-read and become “experts” in the material.


Who is Responsible?

Business, Economics, Ethics, Government

A case study encourages students to look at the many stakeholders, perspectives and expectations involved in the cocoa industry. Give students “Deforestation in West Africa, the source of two-thirds of the world’s cocoa, with a focus on Ghana and Ivory Coast.”


Including Colombia, there are 12 stakeholders listed. Be sure students understand that the websites of companies will have their view of an issue. 

Read About Chocolate in Fact and Fiction

Who Labors on Cocoa Farms?

Business, Economics, Ethics, Government, Journalism

In addition to concerns about deforestation, the cocoa industry raises issues about the use of child laborers on its primarily small farms. American and international chocolate producers have pledged for decades to stop using cocoa harvested by children.


Post reporter Peter Whoriskey and photojournalist Salwan Georges lived 11 days in Ivory Coast, travelling with a translator, to three villages to be eyewitnesses. Children were harvesting cocoa beans, clearing brush and other work required in cocoa production. Read and discuss “Cocoa’s child laborers.”


Questions would include:

• From where do the children who work on cocoa farms come? Willing workers?

• Use the photographs in the article to tell about working and living conditions.

• Who have been involved in reducing, if not eliminating, the use of child laborers?

• What has been the result of efforts by companies, foundations and governments? Any success stories?


Use Photographs to Support Your Writing

Art, Journalism, Media Arts, Visual Arts

Students are asked to take a closer look at the images captured by photojournalist Salwan Georges in “Cocoa’s child laborers.” Give students “Photographs Tell a Story” to guide their reading of the photographs.


Part 2 of this activity, guides students in applying the concept presented.


Create Informational Graphics

Art, Journalism, Mathematics, Visual Arts

Informational graphics play an important role in communicating information to readers. Maps, charts, graphs, timelines, cutaway drawings and unit charts have different strengths. For a review of the types of info graphics, teachers might refer to Informational Graphics: The Visual Dimension.


Give students “Explain the Business of Cocoa: Use Mathematics, Maps and Meaningful Graphics.” The information to be put into graphic format are from articles about the cocoa industry.



What Determines the Price of Chocolate?

Business, Economics, Personal Finance

Teachers might give students chocolate chips or bite-size candy bars to introduce this exercise. How much does one of these small morsels cost? Is the pleasure of eating this sweet worth the price?


What factors determine the price of chocolate — chips, bars, cooking, drinks — that we enjoy? Teachers might have students work in teams to do some comparison shopping first. Give each group a different item made of chocolate or the same item, for example a candy bar, to compare the price at different stores and brands. What might determine the price at this level?


Read “Cocoa’s child laborers” and “The trouble with chocolate.” What clues are provided to costs that may be passed on to consumers?



In the News & Previous Guides

• The Afghanistan Papers

Relate to the Pentagon Papers. Review The Press, The Pentagon Papers and The Post


• Civility —One in a Sports Feature Series

            Silencing the haters: Female gamers compete in a space where basic rules of CIVLITY are lacking”


Winter Weather special supplement

Previous: Observations of Climate, April 2017; Severe Weather, October 2017



• Juvenile Justice

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Previous: Justice for Juveniles? September 27, 2005; Juvenile Justice 2016, February 2016


An index of previous Washington Post NIE online curriculum guides, 2001-2019, is available.



Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 


Cocoa Chocolate powder made from roasted, husked and ground cacao beans; used to make chocolate and to add a chocolate flavor to food and drink
Cocoa butter

Fatty substance in cacao beans, used in confectionery and cosmetics


Cocoa types

Bittersweet, milk chocolate, semi-sweet, unsweetened, white


Child labor

Work that harms a child: working with sharp tools or pesticides, lifting heavy loads, working long hours, clearing land with fire; lacking nutrition, clean water and clean living conditions at work sight; work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

Confectionery Food items that are rich in sugar and carbohydrates; sometimes divided into bakers’ confections and sugar confections; place where sweets and chocolate are made

Action of clearing a wide area of trees; the land is converted to a non-forest use with impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water cycle, soil erosion, livelihood, biodiversity and public health


Forest degradation     Damage or reduction in quality of certain features of the forests; continued degradation of the forests can destroy the entire forest cover and biodiversity

Middlemen who transport and sell bags of cocoa beans to cooperatives

 Sourcing Process of finding suppliers of goods or services
 Stateless Children — whether refugees, internally displaced or stateless — are at a greater risk than adults of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or forced recruitment into armed groups.
Sustainability  Ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level; method of harvesting or using a resource so it is not depleted 
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


 Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Modern World History. Students will analyze the relationship between globalization, human migration, and the environment by

• Comparing regional, interregional, and global efforts to address resource scarcity, access to clean water, deforestation, global warming and sustainable sources of energy (1.4, Globalization: 1970-Present)

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Economics and Personal Finance. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the role of producers and consumers in a market economy by

d)  comparing the costs and benefits of different forms of business organization, including sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, franchise, and cooperative; (EPF.2)


Economics and Personal Finance. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the role of government in a market economy by

a)  identifying goods and services provided by government to benefit society;

b)  identifying the role the government plays in providing a legal structure to protect property rights and enforce contracts;

c)  providing examples of government regulation of the market;

d)  explaining that governments redistribute wealth; (EPF. 8)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

Language. L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Reading: Informational Text. RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.



Common Core standards may be found at