Chocolate lovers consider Madagascar- grown cocoa to be among the finest in the world. In the region of Ambanja, on this island off Africa's east coast, grows the criollo variety, the oldest, rarest, sweetest, and most aromatic kind. Aztecs and Mayas enjoyed it as a nectar of the gods. But criollo is also the most fragile and least productive of the three cocoa varieties. The island’s climate is ideal for its cultivation, and its geographical isolation helps to protect the small evergreen trees from disease.
Still, Madagascar barely produces 0,01 % percent of the world's annual crop, and the fact that poor farmers often use child labor tarnishes cocoa's appeal in the eyes of the world. At least 280,000 children, most of them under age 14, work full time on cocoa plantations world-wide, according to a United Nations estimate. But besides chocolate, a notably positive effect of cocoa production here is that cocoa trees require the shade of a tall forest canopy. Its cultivation has thankfully spared northwestern Madagascar the deforestation that has denuded much of the rest of the island.