The Political Economy of Cacao in West Africa

Dr. Kristy Leissle signs books at the University of Washington BookstorePhoto by Lauren Adler

Dr. Kristy Leissle launches her US book tour. "Cocoa" covers the political economy of cacao with a focus on West Africa.

Dr. Kristy Leissle, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Washington, Bothell, has published a book on the political economy of cacao in West Africa, aptly titled "Cocoa".

She launched her US book tour at the University of Washington Bookstore in Seattle this past Wednesday, March 7, 2018, with a talk and a chocolate tasting. Cocoa is part of a series of books on "Resources" published in the UK by Polity (published in the US by John Wiley & Sons). Dr. Leissle joins experts on Sugar, Uranium, Coffee and other commodities in bringing her expertise in cacao to the table.

Having heard Dr. Leissle speak many times over the past decade, I highly recommend her book. It provides insight into a world of cacao that is often glossed over by over-simplified certification programs and the Western press. It is a fascinating first-hand look at issues of power (or lack thereof) in cacao-growing communities.

Chocolate was not Dr. Leissle's original dissertation topic. She received her MPA (Masters of Public Administration) by studying water utility privatization in Africa. Her doctoral dissertation was heading down the same path when she applied for the The Bonderman Travel Fellowship, a University of Washington grant that allows recipients to engage in independent exploration and travel abroad. Its intent is not to promote formal research but to introduce students to cultures, peoples, and areas of the world with which they are not familiar. The fellowship asks:

Where would you go if you had eight months to travel solo? Which two continents and six countries would you visit? How would you get there? Where would you stay? What experiences would you seek out? How would you be transformed?

Sounds pretty good!

As part of her travel proposal, Dr. Leissle drew arrows on a world map that started in Africa and Asia and pointed north to cacao-consuming countries. She wanted to visit countries in Africa and Asia that grew cacao, but were not the main consumers of cacao. At this point, her dissertation adviser asked her, "Why don't you do your dissertation on this?". The rest is history.

Dr. Leissle spent significant time in Ghana and West Africa conducting research and working closely with two of the largest cacao buyers in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo and Akuafo Adamfo. Her first-hand knowledge of the cacao market as well as her interaction with cacao farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast enable her to provide a view into the political, economic and gender realities of the West African cocoa market that are often overlooked or over simplified in discussions about trade justice.

​The remaining locations and dates in her US book tour are listed below. If you live in one of these cities I recommend attending her talk. Not only will she whet your appetite with topics from her book, she'll be able to show you photos from her time in Africa, and in some locations she will lead you in a chocolate tasting.

​PORTLAND

12 March, 7:30pm

3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Portland, OR 97214

with Dandelion Chocolate tasting

ATLANTA

13 March, 7pm

208 Haralson Ave NE

Atlanta, GA 30307

with Divine Chocolate tasting

ROSWELL

14 March, 6pm (following regional FCIA meeting)

108 Oak Street, Suite B

Roswell, Georgia 30075

with chocolate tastings

BOSTON

15 March, 7pm

561 Windsor Street

Somerville MA 02143

BROOKLYN

18 March, 4pm

126 Franklin Street

Brooklyn, NY 11222

with Divine Chocolate tasting

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