Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world but cannot be found in the league of 50 top cocoa consuming countries.
The country consumes about 0.53 kilograms (KG) of cocoa-sourced products every year and that is a drop in the ocean when compared to countries such as Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Great Britain where an average of eight KG of the products are consumed every year.
When it comes to the 'golden pod,' the country produces what it hardly eats and that is a blow, given the nutritional and health benefits of cocoa.
From the enviable 'Ghana chocolate' through cocoa powder beverages to body lotions made from cocoa and its by-products, not many people in the country are excited about products made from cocoa.
As a result, majority of the beans are shipped in their raw state to factories abroad, with a handful processed in local factories into finished and semi-finished products, a chunk of which also ends up overseas.
The country’s low consumption of cocoa is the consequence of culture, orientation and the income levels of the citizens.
Unlike the western world where breakfasts and snacks are mostly beverages, heavy meals pass for morning and intervening foods and where they are unavailable or not preferred, local delicacies such as porridge or those sourced from cereals become the go-to options.
Among the growing middle class and foreign community where light foods are preferred for breakfasts and snacks, cocoa is hardly on the menu.
Cocoa drinks are least preferred and worst of all, hardly available.
No wonder then that there are no ‘cocoa breaks’ but rather ‘coffee breaks’ at workshops and conferences. Toffees rather than chocolates are shared at these events.
Ironically, coffee shops are dotted across the sprawling Accra, when it could have easily passed for the cocoa capital of the world, with strategically placed ‘cocoa shops’ to give it the distinctively rich velvety aroma from Ghana’s exceptional premium quality cocoa beans.
When it comes to chocolate and other cocoa-sourced candies also, they are viewed more like symbols of luxury.
That is true to some extent. A 100-gram bar of locally produced chocolate retails for more than six cedis in a country where the daily minimum wage is barely GH¢12.
This has made chocolate an occasional product although the recent attempt to symbolise it with love and care seemed to have played out quite well.
The low consumption of cocoa does not only deprive the citizens of its myriad of benefits; it also starves the economy of the ripple effects of value addition.
The chocolate industry, which relies heavily on cocoa, is variously valued at $120 billion.
By consuming less of the product, domestic processors are not motivated to process more beans and this partly explains why the country has capacity to process more than half of what it grows annually yet does around 40 per cent per annum.
This leaves the economy at the periphery of the cocoa business, where the value is less and the ripple effects on jobs, incomes and productivity are low.
National Chocolate Week
To help reverse these, the government has been rolling out various initiatives to help increase value addition and also drive up consumption.
The first credible attempt was in 2007 when February 14, globally marked as Valentine’s Day, was designated National Chocolate Day to help create awareness about the need to consume more chocolate.
After 14 years, the period for the celebration has been extended to a week and the event revamped to refocus attention and stir up excitement around cocoa consumption.
This year’s event was launched in Accra on February 4 at a colourful event that was followed by the opening of a chocolate city.
The occasion brought the country together, with political leaders from both divides, Christian, Muslim and showbiz heavyweights sharing their ‘cocoa stories’ in short videos.
Chocolates were shared to children and the sick, songs were composed on cocoa consumption and a generally frenzy atmosphere around chocolate and cocoa were sustained on social media throughout the period. As the Managing Director of the Cocoa Processing Company, Nana Agyenim Boateng I, said, purchase of chocolate and other cocoa products went up, reflecting the impact of the awareness on consumption.
Beyond the celebration and the euphoria it created, where does the country move from here?
Until two years ago, national per capita consumption of cocoa was around 0.5KG but rose to 0.53KG following intensive awareness spearheaded by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) on the need for Ghanaians to consume cocoa as well as the provision of some incentive schemes to support local processors.
These initiatives would have to be intensified.
An increase in cocoa processed domestically, especially into finished products, would result in a reduction of prices and that should motivate many more Ghanaians to consume the product.
Also, cocoa processors would have to innovate their business models to meet the peculiar needs of consumers.
Instead of focusing only on hardened chocolates, which has become peculiar only to Ghana, processors should explore possibilities of melted candies, toffees and even bite-size chocolates.
These bite or finger-size chocolates can then be served at workshops and conferences under arrangements that include them in the costing of conference packages.
There should be cocoa breaks and not coffee breaks at seminars and that nomenclature should be consciously ingrained in the minds of people and programmes, especially event organisers.
It should be possible for processors to partner with young entrepreneurs to establish cocoa shops at corporate cities to sell the beverage to workers.
This could be the beginning to people saying ‘let us meet over cocoa’ rather than the current refrain of let us ‘meet over coffee.’
How about cocoa shops in the malls and the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) to serve only ready-to-drink Ghana cocoa?
Catch them young
It is laudable that government has added cocoa to the School Feeding Programme, thereby making it possible for the Cocoa Processing Company to supply powder to the children.
This should be expanded to all schools and should occasionally feature the bite-size chocolates.
Most Ghanaian adults do not add cocoa to their menus not because they do not like it but because they did not grow up with it.
We must nurture the habit of consuming cocoa into our young ones and help them to grow with it.
The government must also use the state and purchasing power to drive up consuming.
Nothing prevents the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) from mandating hotels to serve Ghana chocolate and cocoa at their premises as a way of promoting local content.
Also, state events must always feature chocolate and cocoa, for charity they say, begins at home. Instructively, this has become rhetoric for most public officials and one wonders what is so difficult to practicalise it.
All in all, cocoa consumption must be prioritised at an individual level.
Scientists have concurred that it boosts the immune system, cleans the heart, reduces cholesterol, acts as aphrodisiac, makes children smarter and fights diabetes, among others.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made a stronger immune system more relevant than ever, now could just be the time to increase the intake of cocoa.