Cocoa, a raw material for making one of the world’s priced products, chocolate, has witnessed quite an eventful 2021 year.
Cocoa Production in Ghana at risk?
First was the fear that gripped most Ghanaians and other African cocoa-producing countries over the reports of China exporting cocoa to Belgium. According to the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS), South China’s island province of Hainan exported 500kg of cocoa beans to Belgium for the first time worth 3,044 euros (about $3,600).
“Cocoa is a raw material for making chocolate. With the increasing demand for chocolates, Hainan has been expanding its cocoa planting area and making breakthroughs in technological development,” said Hao Zhaoyun, a researcher with CATAS.
“As Belgium is dubbed ‘kingdom of chocolates,’ exports to the country indicate that our cocoa production standards have been recognized by the international community,” Hao added.
Cocoa Production in Ghana
The report created a sense of worry amongst some Ghanaians, Ivorians, and other African cocoa-producing nations because of one important factor, China’s use of technology in their cocoa production.
In light of this, the General Secretary of Ghana’s Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), Edward Kareweh, has called on the government of Ghana to transform how cocoa is produced in the country.
“We have to immediately change how we produce cocoa in this country. For more than 100 years we have been using cutlasses and hoes on our cocoa farms. If we look at how we even harvest and store the cocoa beans, it is also not the best. We must sit up looking at the capacity of China and what they can do when they enter a particular industry” he said.
Some Ghanaians including celebrities took to social media to express their dismay.
“As the second-largest producer of Cocoa, we( Ghana) should be worried China has started producing and exporting Cocoa to Belgium albeit small quantities. In a couple of years, our “unmatched” Cocoa will be matched by the Chinese.” @johndumelo1
“Now apparently China has started growing Cocoa. Lmao Malaysia has been doing Palm oil. Smallest time even the littlest things we do to keep afloat will be taken over because our leaders have been super unserious.” @Mensa
“China is polluting our water bodies and destroying our cocoa farms only to start producing cocoa to the European market, China is a threat to Ghana, Ghana youth arise oooh #knust” @ASK_Nyame
“China found a way to grow and export their own cocoa? It’s over for us.” @Mz_Kheri
Despite the fears, the government of Ghana as well as other analysts have stated that there is no reason for alarm as China cannot overtake African countries in cocoa production.
Why China cannot overtake African countries in cocoa production
Cocoa plants require high temperatures and plenty of water to grow, which can only be found in the tropical regions of Africa, South America, and some parts of Asia. To reach production on a grand scale, the size of the tropical forest must be taken into consideration. China’s Hainan Island where cocoa production is taking roots covers only a fraction of the Island’s size of 35,354 square kilometres compared to Ghana’s tropical rain forest estimated at 9.17 million hectares accounting for 40% of the country’s total landmass.
Moreover, given this vast land of tropical rainforest, it will be easier to expand cocoa production in Ghana.
This notwithstanding, Ghana and other African cocoa-producing countries should not take this kindly. It must scale up its effort to avoid any form of threat.
Switzerland’s laboratory-grown chocolate
Swiss scientists from Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) have become the first to successfully develop laboratory-grown chocolate. The team, which is made up of biotechnologists and food technologists produced chocolate from what it describes as extracting plant-based cell cultures from cocoa beans.
According to the team, the biomass from the culture is harvested, dried, and later roasted, after which it is mixed with “cocoa butter, sugar, and lecithin. And the result is a 70% dark chocolate.” Reports indicate that the lab-grown chocolate has passed the taste test.
“In the mouth, lab-grown chocolate feels just like traditional chocolate – which we brought along for comparison. The big difference lies in its rather fruity taste, which is immediately apparent. Flavours in conventional chocolate take more time to unfold,” Swissinfo.ch, a Swiss online news and information service alluded to a taste report.
According to Professor Regine Eibl, lab-grown chocolate had been necessitated due to an increase in demand for chocolate given growth in the world’s population as well as a scarcity of land for the cultivation of cocoa, the major factor in the chocolate production process.
“Chocolate consumption is increasing. The world’s population is growing too, but the land is becoming scarce. So this is an alternative whereby people can still enjoy chocolate a hundred years from now,” Professor Eibl stated.
Germany cocoa-free chocolate production
Germany, one of the world’s largest car producers and the seventh-largest country in Europe by land size is joining in the race in ensuring a cocoa-free ‘chocolate world.’
A startup company, situated in Munich and known as QOA is developing cocoa-free chocolate using other plant ingredients through what it calls “precision fermentation.”
The mission of the startup is to “replace cocoa in mass-market products.”
The company’s website outlined reasons why the company is pursuing this mission.
“That’s because the exploitation of cocoa beans comes with severe negative consequences. The destruction of forests for cocoa harvesting in countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Peru, and Ecuador, as well as the immense amount of water needed to produce cocoa threaten the future of us and our planet,” the company stated on its website.
“From Ivory Coast and Ghana to Peru, Ecuador, and many other countries, the destruction of forests for cocoa is a sad reality. Especially in Western Africa children end up on cocoa farms, doing hazardous work including the use of sharp tools, working at night, and exposure to agrochemical products.
Furthermore, the cocoa bean needs the most water for its growth of all plants. For comparison: With the same amount of water, almost 34 kg of apples can grow.
We believe incremental improvements just won’t do the job in time. Instead, let’s get down to the root of the problem and make QOA the mass-market standard by 2035,” the website further read.
With support from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, and Bayern Innovativ, a Bavarian state government innovations promotion initiative, the CEO and co-founder of QOA, Maximilian Marquart, is confident that by 2035 the company will be able to effectively replace a huge chunk of cocoa in chocolate production.
“55 million pounds of chocolate are consumed every day. By 2035 we will substitute a big chunk of it through our sustainable chocolate,” he said.
“Our chocolate is 10x more sustainable and 20% cheaper than conventional chocolate,” he further stated.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service, cocoa production in Ghana supports the livelihood of four (4) million household farmers, while constituting 20-25% of total exports. Also, in 2019, the Bank of Ghana noted in its 2019 annual report that cocoa beans and products increased by 5.0% to US$2.29 billion. Given this pursuit by the Chinese, the Swiss, and the Germans, cocoa farmers in Ghana may soon face a potent threat to their livelihoods while the nation’s cocoa revenue stream may realize a downward trend should these countries arrive at commercial levels in their pursuit.
That being said, this development should be an indicator to Ghana and other African countries to step up in their efforts in maintaining a competitive and comparative edge in the cocoa industry. The Government of Ghana must also step up in its efforts in supporting entities interested in producing high premium chocolate that is unbeatable.
Ghana is already known for producing the best cocoa in the world but not chocolate or other cocoa-related products. This is where we must shine to always remain relevant.