Sao Tome: Cocoa Plantations

São Tomé is the land of cocoa. In 1913, São Tomé and Principe were nicknamed as “chocolate islands” as the small African country was the world’s number one producer of cocoa. The history of cocoa on the islands dates back to 1822 when the Portuguese introduced cocoa trees from Brazil to Príncipe. At its heyday, São Tomé saw an annual production of 35,000 tons of cocoa, being not only the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, but also the uncontested leader in terms of quality. When the country became independent in 1975 and socialism seized the power on the island nation, mismanagement and government incompetence quickly ruined almost all rocas (cocoa estates) and production shrank to 12,000 tons in just a couple years, then down to 3,000 tons by 1988 and further down to the low 2,000 tons by early 2000s. It’s around that level today, despite a couple new private entrants. Nevertheless, as you drive around the island, you see the cocoa plantation all around, with cocoa trees covered with cocoa pods in various degrees of ripeness.