Madagascar is home to some of the world's finest rich orange and red pods of cocoa, increasingly used today by Europe and America's finest chocolatiers. Raw cocoa beans, used to make premium chocolate, have never been in higher demand. A surge in appetite for high-end chocolate sourced from single-origin growers has created a frenzied rush for the "dark gold". For the island's cocoa farmers, the surging demand for chocolate should be transformative, especially after years of poverty, but their newfound livelihoods are under threat from armed bandits running rampant in remote areas, hijacking stores and road shipments of the precious beans that make chocolate.
The cacao farmers in Ambanja are living in fear every day. A fear of theft prompts them to store their harvested crop as close to them as possible, with most keeping it in the same room as they sleep in. Gangs do as they please, stealing cacao from the farmers’ houses and from the fields. These gangs even steal unripe cacao from the field, then dig holes in which to ripen it underground. Owners of plantations are obliged to patrol their fields every day and evening to keep crops safe.
Cacao is a luxury product, thus the existence of cacao plantations in Ambanja is a source of pride. Gangs make a significant profit from stealing cacao and they gain respect in their local communities because they can now help their families meet their daily needs. Police assaults on gangs are often callous, blistering attacks. They hunt down members of these theft rings from a list of wanted gangs. On the list was Rakotonirina Ferdinand, 33 years old, who was shot dead in his house in Matsaborilava, when he tried to prevent police from entering his house. Ferdinand’s family was shocked by the shooting, and significant tension now exists between the police and the family.
The police continue trying to restore security, but the gangs are determined to continue stealing.