Amazing Africa: Where chocolate comes from

This week, ONE agriculture policy manager Kelly Hauser tells the story of a Ghana cocoa farm through photos.

Have you ever wondered where that stunningly delicious chunk of chocolate actually came from? Well, earlier this month, I got to find out. I traveled with a delegation of Yale Alumni ServiceCorps members who were already working in Ghana to visit a cocoa farming community working with the US non-profit TechnoServe. Cocoa is incredibly important to food security and poverty reduction in Ghana. Unlike some countries where cocoa is farmed on large plantations, the vast majority of the country’s 700,000 cocoa farmers are smallholders with around two hectares (5 acres) of land.

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TechnoServe works directly with the Cocoa Abrabopa Association in Ghana, which has 25,000 member farmers. Ben, left, is the President of the Nuamak Cocoa Farmers, a participating group of 12 farmers working near the farm that we visited in the Twifo-Praso district. As President, Ben is responsible for general management and administration of his group.

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Through TechnoServe, the groups learn to track the fertilizer and pesticides that they purchase on credit. If they wish to take out another loan, they are required to pay back the input company at harvest. Ninety-six percent of farmers pay back the company. Cocoa farmers in Ghana have a guaranteed buyer -– the government’s Ghana Cocoa Board.

TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama to help farmers like these get the support they need

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Wienco is an agricultural input company that sponsors the Cocoa Abrabopa Association, making fertilizers and pesticides available on credit while paying TechnoServe to train the farmers and help them grow their association. Although the farmers use synthetic fertilizers, they practice environmental sustainability and are certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

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Farmers in the association have made their production leap: after one year, average farm yields rise from 279 kg of cocoa per hectare to 1,212 kg per hectare –- a four-fold increase. Luckily, cocoa harvesting is staggered since the pods ripen across a three-month period twice per year. Here, a farmer opens each cocoa pod and harvests the seeds. Usually, he tells us, he would use a large basket.

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After removing the seeds, farmers pile up the cocoa husks to burn later when they cook their lunch, which is almost always fish caught in the nearby stream. The stream is protected from fertilizer by a designated no-fertilize zone on the farmers’ land. Farmers also showed us posted signs that prohibit hunting, another part of the Rainforest Alliance certification requirements.

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The white fleshy part of the cocoa pod is quite delicious, and, in Brazil, it is used to make juice. However, Ghanaian cocoa beans fetch a premium price on world markets due to a unique fermentation process that involves the fleshy fruit. The beans are fermented for one week in banana leaves on the farm before being carried to the village for drying.

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Fred from Technoserve showed us how the drying mats are made. Fred oversees field officers who travel around Ghana teaching, mentoring and monitoring the Cocoa Abrabopa farmers. Fred is slated to receive an MSc from the University of Kansas this year.

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Cocoa dries outside for one week on the mats, which allow air to access the beans from all sides. Kernels must turn a deep brownish-purple before being accepted by buying agents.

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If it rains, the beans are protected by tarps. Farmers work hard to protect the beans and produce excellent quality. Thanks to the Ghana Cocoa Board, which ensures consistency in quality, Ghanaian cocoa receives a premium price on world markets. Farmers receive 70 percent of the world price, and the government keeps 30 percent.The 30 percent is reinvested in research and education, and farmers are guaranteed this price before planting.

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Almost all cocoa in Ghana is bought by licensed buying agents and is marketed through the Ghana Cocoa Board. Around 75 percent of Ghana’s cocoa exported for processing into chocolate and other products. The remaining 25 percent remains in the country.

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In the Cocoa Abrabopa Twifo-Praso district headquarters, the Yale alumni and the Cocoa Abrabopa farmers had a middle school dance-esque discussion about the TechnoServe program. The farmers told us that yield gains from the program have translated into better incomes and more kids in school. Many of the Yale folks will go back to the US to host events to raise awareness about ONE, agricultural development and the power of US foreign assistance.