Most of the world's cocoa is grown on small farms, not large plantations. According to the International Cocoa Organization, 2.5 million farmers produce almost 90 percent of the world's cocoa on 5-10 acre holdings. Typically, cocoa is the family's main source of cash. Cocoa provides important income for small farmers in developing economies all over the world.
Cycles of high and low cocoa prices impact the quality and quantity of cocoa production. Like most other agricultural crops, cocoa is subject to weather patterns and other influences which affect supply and demand, which in turn affect price. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, high prices stimulated expansion in plantings. An abundance of cocoa beans on the world market resulted in subsequent price declines and a drop in farm income. Farmers could no longer spend the money necessary to care for their cocoa trees and still make a living, which in turn encouraged widespread losses from pests and disease.
The growing commercial demand for cocoa over the past century resulted in large cocoa plantations, where trees are grown in full sun and require extensive and costly fertilization and pest management. When cocoa trees are planted row upon row in the direct sun like apple orchards or orange groves, the trees become stressed and are more susceptible to pests and disease. Soil is more easily depleted. In addition, pests and disease can be passed more readily from tree to tree under these conditions.