Chocolate and cocoa beans
Chocolate and cocoa beans
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Your Ghana, My Ghana: When will Ghana be known for its chocolatiers?

The second of this two-part series focuses on what it will take for Ghana, famed for the best cocoa beans on earth, to make its name among the big chocolate makers of this world. 

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Economic historians call them ‘linkages’. They are the forward and backward links between agriculture and other sectors of the economy that enable an underdeveloped economy to leap into the future.

Ghana’s cocoa beans get a premium price on world markets because its geographic location and climate favour cocoa production and because the natural method of fermenting cocoa beans developed by cocoa farmers at the start of the cocoa revolution in the 1890s gives Ghana’s cocoa its distinct quality and flavour.

But when it comes to the branding of chocolate and other cocoa by-products, Ghana is still far from gaining world renown. This deprives the economy of the kind of linkages that could deepen the sophistication of its manufacturing industry.

Linkages

The concept of ‘linkages’ was developed by a German economic historian called Albert Otto Hirschman in the 1950s. Hirschman’s strategy for achieving economic development in poor, developing economies was to target key industries with strong ‘linkages’ to other parts of the economy.

As it happens, Hirschman was one of the world-renowned economists that Nkrumah brought to Ghana during the late 1950s and early 1960s to advise him ahead of the writing of his Seven-Year Development Plan. 

A year before his overthrow in 1966, Nkrumah set up the Cocoa Processing Company (CPC) to create just these types of linkages between Ghana’s star performer, cocoa, and its fledgeling manufacturing industry.

Today, CPC has installed capacity to process 64,500 metric tons of raw beans a year but is only hitting 25,000 metric tons currently. Similarly, despite an annual budget to produce 3,000 metric tons of chocolates of all varieties, the company is barely managing 2,000 metric tons as of now due to constraints with old machinery breaking down, according to CPC Head of Corporate Communications, James Ekow Rhule. 

But though CPC has some way to go to extract itself from a crisis that saw its share price plummet to GHç 1 some years ago, there are some areas of promise for Ghana’s chocolate-making ambition.

Promise

After the late New Patriotic Party stalwart, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, took what Rhule describes as the “bold step” to rename Valentine’s Day ‘Chocolate Day’ in Ghana, local consumption of chocolate began to rise markedly. 

CPC was the only Ghanaian chocolate producer from 1965 until 2016, when private individuals producing artisanal chocolates emerged. 

In recent years, the rise of deliciously high-quality, local artisanal brands such as Niche, Bioko Treats, Mansa Gold, Midunu, Fairafric and 57 Chocolate have challenged the dominance of CPC as the sole player in the local chocolate and confectionary manufacturing industry with its Golden Tree varieties. 

When it comes to cocoa production, small really is beautiful. The indigenous farming practices developed by Ghana’s small-scale farmers, including the earth-friendly method of fermenting cocoa beans, is what has made Ghana’s cocoa beans the most prized in the world, attracting a premium price.

This gives chocolatiers an advantage, in that their raw material is already branded and has a distinct taste unlike any other. 

Whereas all other chocolate manufacturers use a blend of cocoa beans from all over the world, with Ghana’s premium quality beans making up perhaps 10% of the mix, Ghana is the only country in the world that does not blend its cocoa beans with those from any other country. 

For that reason, Ghana’s cocoa has a very distinct flavour. As Ghana Cocoa Board Chief Executive, Joseph Boahen Aidoo puts it, “You can smell Ghana’s cocoa from 2 kilometres away.” 

Challenges and Constraints

But for small artisanal brands, like Bioko Treats and Mansa Gold, the challenges are mainly about the high cost of doing business in Ghana.  Both companies produce handcrafted (or ‘artisanal’) chocolates. This means that the cocoa beans are sorted by hand and roasted in small batches. The cost of production is therefore higher than for a large manufacturer benefiting from economies of scale. 

Artisanal chocolate is ‘bean to bar’ chocolate and uses the whole cocoa bean. Small artisanal chocolatiers do not generally have the means to become licensed buyers and must purchase their beans from COCOBOD rather than directly from the cocoa farmers. But Bioko Treats gets some of its beans from a small family farm in Asante.

Bioko Treats was started by Jean Donkor, its managing director, in December 2016 as Treats Confection. Donkor has a corporate and marketing background. In 2017, in a successful move to rebrand, Donkor changed the company’s name to Bioko Treats. 

Bioko is the current name for Fernando Po in Equatorial Guinea, where Tetteh Quarshie acquired the cocoa beans that started Ghana’s cocoa revolution. 

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Bioko Treats produces 3 metric tons of chocolate a year, including 17 flavours of pralines and bonbons and 10 flavours of chocolate bars. These include exotic Ghanaian flavours such as gari, zowe, prekese, bissap, Ada sea salt and Volta Region coffee. But little of it is currently exported due to the high cost of transportation. 

Add to this the cost of importing machines and dairy and sugar ingredients not produced in Ghana, as well as the cost of electricity to run air conditioners to keep the machines cool and the final product from melting, and Ghana’s chocolate appears expensive.

But Donkor describes the main challenges facing Ghana’s chocolatiers as “old trees and the problem of galamsey. “To say our rivers have 40 years left is generous,” Donkor told “Your Ghana, My Ghana”. 

She also describes as a “serious problem” the new European Union tariff on imports, stipulating that all ingredients should come from Europe. “When cocoa becomes part of a tariff system, it means they don’t want the finished product in Europe, just the beans,” said the Bioko Treats MD. 

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A newer entrant, Mansa Gold, was started in 2020 by Preba Arkaah, a former corporate lawyer. In just four years, Arkaah has created a niche with several flavours of confectionary and chocolate bars, each beautifully packaged and conceptualised with a small write-up evoking birdlife, nature, history and culture.

But Arkaah is emphatic that the current regulation of the cocoa industry does not take into account the needs and characteristics of artisanal chocolatiers.

“I need to be able to take from the different farms and regions, to add to the unique flavour of each. If I have to buy a blend from Cocobod, how will it be different from any other chocolate? How do I create something special that the international market will be interested in?” Arkaah says.

“They will say they’re trying to regulate local production. We don’t need regulation. I’m not saying they shouldn’t certify local production. But it has to be halfway between Unilever and small-scale production,” Arkaah says.

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AfCFTA 

When it comes to regional opportunities opened up the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Arkaah says she would like to export to the west coast of Africa. 

“I tried to export through AfCFTA. But some in the Secretariat have never tried to export and they don’t know the practicalities,” Arkaah told “Your Ghana, My Ghana”.

Arkaah is equally disparaging about the government’s efforts to support the country’s chocolatiers. “There are no specific government initiatives. If anything, governments make it difficult to operate,” Arkaah claims. 

“We used to be able to import machinery free of duty. We now have 5% import duty on chocolate machinery. They don’t even recognise what is chocolate machinery; for example, we have to pay the same duties as on fridges for our holding cabinets. Or we get caught up in red tape. There are so many taxes and levies,” she said.

Arkaah says she pays an effective 30% in duties on everything she imports. Shipping, insurance, VAT and levies including Covid and national health insurance all push the bill up. 

“Tax is a real issue. All the money I make is ploughed back into machinery. And who can afford a bank loan?”, Arkaah retorted.

Chocolate manufacturing globally is clearly a highly lucrative, multi-billion dollar business. While European markets are probably not going to magically open up to Ghanaian chocolatiers to corner any share already staked by long time players, more efforts can perhaps be focused on making the AfCFTA work.

This of course assumes that policy-makers will protect the cocoa industry from the threat of galamsey and incentivise Ghana’s long-suffering cocoa farmers to continue producing the best cocoa beans in the world.

For a discussion of these issues, join us at Graphic Online TV on Thursday at 10am. Dede Amanor-Wilks is a journalist and economic historian specialising in economic development. See https://zlibrary.to/filedownload/peasants-settlers-and-weavers-in-africa.

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