At the time of the Spanish conquest, cocoa bean currency in the commercially active economy of the Aztec empire ranked above gold dust as the principal form of money. The Aztecs kept cocoa beans in bags holding 24,000 beans. Columbus met with a Yucatan ship hauling goods to trade for cocoa. The Aztecs also used copper hatchets as money and Cortez, in a letter to the king of Spain in 1524, referred to a copper hatchet as worth 8,000 cocoa beans.
Girolamo Benzoni, writing in 1572, said that the Spanish inhabitants of Guatemala held their wealth in the form of cocoa. To preserve the local supply of money, Guatemala enacted an ordinance banning the export of cocoa unless payment was in coin. Cocoa bean currency stretched into Latin America. In 1712 a royal decree in Brazil listed cocoa, cloves, sugar, and tobacco as commodities that legally circulated as money and troops were paid in these commodities. In nineteenth-century Nicaragua, 100 cocoa beans bought a serviceable slave. Remote Indian tribes in Mexico and Central America continued to make small change with cocoa beans into the twentieth century. Within these tribes the smallest silver coin equaled 40 cocoa beans.
Small-scale growers earn just 80 cents a day, so they have little incentive to plant new trees when their older ones die. In addition to planting more lucrative crops like rubber, hordes of cacao growers are moving into cities to seek higher-paying work, according to the Independent.
The result will be $11 chocolate bars. John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, says in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar: “It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.”