This film is held by the BFI (ID: 26434).


The production of cocoa beans in the Gold Coast and their shipment to England.

After an opening title explaining that 'most of the raw cocoa used in England grows in Africa on the Gold Coast - a part of the British Empire', a map of Africa indicates the position of the Gold Coast and then pinpoints Koforidua. This is followed by shots of trees, coupled with descriptive titles (eg 'when the pods are ripe they are about ten inches long'). A title explains that 'the plantations all belong to the natives' as locals are shown cutting down and collecting the pods in baskets. A group, including young children, sit down and split open the pods. The beans are then spread out on banana leaves, and subsequently dried in the sun. After they are packed, locals carry sacks of beans on their heads to the village market. A local woman sells her crop to an English agent - the bag is weighed before she receives her payment through a window from the Englishman. Another female African broker negotiates with an English agent. The beans are inspected and put into new sacks, which the local women sew up. The sacks are then loaded onto a train, before lorry-loads of beans arrive in town. After showing a European man in his office, the film highlights the work at Takoradi. Porters load the sacks onto a cargo ship by crane, and are given a tally for each sack carried which, the titles explain, will then be exchanged for wages. At Accra, men load the sacks into surf-boats, and row out to the cargo-ships. The sacks are hoisted onto the steamers 'for their long journey to England'. Finally, a map indicates the journey taken to Liverpool, via Freetown, Las Palmas and Madeira.



Sight and Sound explained in 1936 that ‘Messrs. Cadbury have now completed a one-reel film, Cocoa from the Gold Coast. The material is taken from The Night Watchman’s Story and has been edited to the specifications of the Geography Committee’ (Sight and Sound, Spring 1936, 47). The Night Watchman’s Story was one of a number films made by Walter Creighton, following his visit to West Africa with the cameraman James Rogers, in 1932 (Low, 1979, 133). Monthly Film Bulletin offered further information on the production of Cocoa from the Gold Coast, explaining that it was produced by Cadbury’s and ‘specially edited by a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr J. Fairgrieve … for the National Film Library as a geography teaching film’ (MFB, August 1938, 191).

Monthly Film Bulletin praised ‘this exceptionally fine film’ which it suggested ‘deserves to be recorded as the ideal on what a film on cocoa should be’. Teaching notes were available with the film and the review further argued that ‘it brings out everything which a teacher would want’ and emphasised its value as ‘a background and classroom film for both economic and regional geography’ (MFB, August 1938, 191). The Times reported in 1938 that ‘a film of native life and industry associated with cocoa cultivation on the Gold Coast has been given by Cadbury Brothers Limited’ to the Empire Film Library. The report stated that the film would be available for the cinema at the Imperial Institute and for the ‘2,500 educational establishments and social organisations in the United Kingdom which use the library’. It further noted that ‘last year the films in the library were shown to audiences estimated altogether at 5,000,000’ (The Times, 16 March 1938, 19).

Cocoa from the Gold Coast was also available in other areas of the Empire. It was the first film given to the Film Library in South Africa after it was established in 1936 (Sight and Sound, Spring 1937, 16). Sight and Sound subsequently reported that ‘The British Film Institute has been enabled by the generosity of Cadbury Brothers Ltd., to present to the libraries in South Africa, Australia, and Palestine a 16mm. copy of Cocoa from the Gold Coast, the one-reel geography film made by Cadbury Brothers Ltd. to the specifications of the Geography Committee of the Institute’ (Sight and Sound, Summer 1936, 6).

Cocoa production began in earnest in West Africa in the early part of the twentieth century. Gold Coast cocoa had been worth only £27,300 in 1900 but by 1906 it was worth £336,000 and Cadbury’s involvement began shortly afterwards (Ramamurthy, 2003, 82). It sent out a representative to the Gold Coast in 1907 – after reports indicated that the company was acquiring slave-grown cocoa from Portuguese West Africa – and by 1910 the company was setting up ‘model’ plantations in the area and opening buying stations along the developing rail route, with Koforidua opening in 1915-16. By the 1930s, the Colonial Office’s annual reports noted that the principal occupation within the Gold Coast was agriculture and the chief agricultural industry – except in the Northern Territories – ‘is the cultivation of cocoa for export’. The reports indicate a steady increase in exports from 207,008 tons in 1932-33 to 294,974 tons in 1936-37 (Annual Report, 1937, 18-19).

Yet, the 1930s also marked a period of increased tension between the cocoa producers and the European trading companies. This reached its zenith in the cocoa ‘hold-up’ which ran from October 1937 to April 1938, but can be traced back to the start of the decade. In 1930 the United Africa Company, Cadbury and the other six largest shippers of Gold Coast cocoa had entered into an agreement for each to buy a fixed share of the total crop. This attempt to control producer prices and eliminate costly competition was further strengthened with the introduction of the 1937 Buying Agreement, which formally linked the interests of 13 firms that had exported 94% of the crop during the previous year (Dorward, 1986, 451). At a time when producer prices were plummeting, Gold Coast farmers, brokers and chiefs united in refusing to sell their produce to the major expatriate trading firms, and also initiated a boycott of European goods (Alence, 1990-1, 77).

Cocoa from the Gold Coast also depicts the work of the ‘native brokers’ within the industry. The Nowell report of 1938 – commissioned in response to the hold-up – estimates that there were 40,000 brokers and sub-brokers operating in 1938, but Roger Southall suggests that Cadbury’s acquired the majority of its cocoa from a handful of suppliers, so that by 1929 at Koforidua, four suppliers were contributing 92% of the cocoa (Southall, 1978, 187, 201). Southall further argued that while Cadbury’s had initially drawn the majority of its cocoa from suppliers who were associated with the production process, in the interwar years, it increasingly appointed its own buying clerks who were easier to control (Southall, 1978, 188). 



Cocoa from the Gold Coast re-contextualises existing footage from the Gold Coast and, for the most part, presents a descriptive account of cocoa production – ‘the tiny blossom grows out of the trunks’, ‘the beans are spread out on banana leaves’ – intended for young audiences. From the outset, the film positions the activities on screen in relation to England and the Empire. The opening title explains that ‘most of the raw cocoa used in England grows in Africa on the Gold Coast – a part of the British Empire’ as the film promotes imperial trade and outlines each stage of the production process.

The footage provides insight into the work undertaken by the locals – for example young children are shown splitting open the pods – and presents the clearly delineated African and European roles within an ordered, working industry, at a moment when these relations were actually on the verge of breakdown. In the first half of the film, there is no evidence of European involvement, and in these initial scenes the film uses familiar ethnographic shots (for example, locals transport goods on their heads) to depict a largely non-mechanised industry. It is only when visiting the ‘market’ that the British influence is evident, and in contrast to the non-mechanised methods of the locals, the film now highlights the modern transport links used by the British – by rail, by lorries and finally with the large ships at Takoradi.

Perhaps most interestingly, given the impending disputes, the film highlights the work of the British agents and the ‘native brokers who buy crops from the farmers and sell large quantities of beans to the agents’. These sequences are clearly staged, and represent an idealised and simplified version of this system. Yet, the sequences still, particularly in their framing, emphasise a clear distance and division between the European agents and Africans. In one scene a ‘native woman sells her cocoa crop direct to the English agent’. While this woman stands outside and weighs her bag, the English officer is inside a building, shaded behind a grilled window. Further sequences show the British within an office setting in contrast to the African workers. Despite highlighting these clearly distinct roles, the film certainly does not show any of the grievances evidently felt amongst workers. Instead the film promotes a contented African workforce – ‘they sing to the rhythm of the strokes’ – working within a clearly structured industry, overseen by European officials.

Tom Rice (September 2008)


Works Cited

Alence, Rod, ‘The 1937-1938 Gold Coast Cocoa Crisis: The Political Economy of Commercial Stalemate’, African Economic History, No. 19, 1990 - 1991, 77-104.

Colonial Office, Annual Report on the Gold Coast, 1936-37 (1937).

Dorward, D.C., ‘British West Africa and Liberia’ in A.D. Roberts ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7 1905-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929 - 1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930's (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979).

‘Cocoa from the Gold Coast’, Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1938, 191.

Ramamurthy, Anandi, Imperial Persuaders: Images of Africa and Asia in British Advertising (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).

‘What the British Film Institute is doing’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1936.

‘News of the Quarter’, Sight and Sound, Summer 1936, 6.

‘South African Developments’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1937, 15-16.

Southall, Roger J., ‘Farmers, Traders and Brokers in the Gold Coast Cocoa Economy’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1978, 185-211.

‘Gifts to Empire Film Library’, The Times, 16 March 1938, 19. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
16 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
400 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
ROGERS, James E.
Production Company
Cadbury Brothers