Dana Mroueh’s chocolate factory is a rarity for Ivory Coast and not only because the world’s top cocoa grower produces precious little finished chocolate.
In the middle of the floor of her company Mon Choco’s factory sits a grinding bike, surrounded by trays of carefully sorted cocoa beans. Poured in a funnel, beans are transformed into a paste by a grinder activated through pedaling.
Mroueh, a 40-year-old Ivorian of French-Lebanese descent, oversees the process from the time the beans are selected to when they are transformed into candies, producing organic and environmentally friendly chocolate bars.
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“We really want to have a minimal impact on the environment by using as little electricity as possible,” Mroueh said as she supervised a small team of employees in white coats sorting the beans.
“My chocolate is made up of 70 percent cocoa and 30 percent brown sugar. We don’t add cocoa butter or plant oil. It’s only raw cocoa and sugar,” Mroueh said.
The cocoa industry is threatening to the environment, including by contributing to deforestation. Environmental campaign groups say that Ivory Coast is at risk of losing all its forest cover by 2034.
But organic cocoa beans are difficult to find in Ivory Coast, where the overwhelming majority of farmers use chemicals and insecticides.
As a result, organic chocolate is expensive to produce and caters primarily to the European market. Mon Choco chocolate bars sell for around 1,500 CFA francs ($2.60), a price that is out of reach for most local consumers.
Mon Choco and other initiatives of the kind are developing in Ivory Coast but represent a niche market of only 5,000 tonnes of beans per year, in a country that produces more than 2 million tonnes every year.