Cocoa: Earth’s Gift to Africa….

Chocolate comes from cocoa, which comes from trees – that makes it a plant. Therefore, chocolate counts as salad.”– Unknown

Image ref: IITA

West Africa is known generally for the supply of agricultural raw materials. From cotton basins in Niger, the groundnut basins in Senegal and northern Nigeria, rubber tree and oil palm plantations and cocoa through which some of the best chocolates are made. These crops and more were responsible for shaping the rural landscape, fostering the development of towns, redistributing the population and sometimes even defining borders of future nations states.

In Africa, Cocoa is referred to as the king of the crops.

While cocoa may be produced essentially in developing countries, its by-products are consumed mainly in industrialised countries. Although, some producing countries also process part of their cocoa bean themselves, the main purchasers are the chocolate processing and confectionary industries.

Since 1960, world cocoa production has increased threefold, from 1.2 to 3.6 million tonnes. This growth was disrupted by several jolts caused by structural adjustment policies, crop infestations, diseases and market speculation. Approximately fifty countries in the inter-tropical zone grow cocoa beans, three of which dominate world production. Côte d’Ivoire boasts of producing 39 per cent, of the world’s supply. Other leading cocoa farming countries include Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

How important is this product?

Image ref: AfDB

Cocoa is a small tree crop that primarily comes from three tropical regions. The 4–8 Metre tall perennial tropical crop, does not like too much sunlight and grows in the shade of other important crops such as plantain, cassava and rubber as well as fruit trees such as oil palm, avocado, breadfruit, guava, mango, orange and coconut in addition to some timber species like iroko and mahogany.

Each egg-shaped pod that either turns red or brown contains 30 to 40 seeds, each of which is surrounded by a bitter-sweet white pulp. When the seeds are dried and fermented in the sun, they are brownish red, and known as cocoa beans—the principal ingredient of chocolate.

Chocolate is a key ingredient in many foods such as candy bars, milk shakes, cookies and cereals. Despite its popularity, most people do not know the unique origins of this popular treat. Chocolate is a product that requires complex procedures to produce. The process involves harvesting coca, refining coca to cocoa beans, and shipping the cocoa beans to the manufacturing factory for cleaning, coaching and grinding. These cocoa beans will then be imported or exported to other countries and be transformed into different type of chocolate products.

It doesn’t happen as easy as you just read.

Harvesting Cocoa & Cocoa processing:

Chocolate production starts with harvesting cocoa in a forest which is done manually. The seed pods of coca will first be collected; the beans will be selected and placed in piles. These cocoa beans will then be ready to be shipped to the manufacturer for mass production.

Step 1: Plucking and opening the Pods:

Image ref: Nestle Australia

When the pods are ripe, harvesters travel through the cocoa orchards with machetes and hack the pods gently off of the trees. Machines could damage the tree or the clusters of flowers and pods that grow from the trunk, so workers must harvest the pods by hand, using short, hooked blades mounted on long poles to reach the highest fruit. After the cocoa pods are collected into baskets, the pods are taken to a processing house.

Step 2: Fermenting the cocoa seeds:

Image ref: IITA

After harvesting, the seeds are removed from the pods and are either placed in large, shallow, heated trays or covered with large banana leaves. If the climate is right, they may be simply heated by the sun. Workers come along periodically and stir them up so that all of the beans come out equally fermented. During fermentation is when the beans turn brown. This process may take five or eight days.

Step 3: Drying the cocoa seeds:

Image ref: Earthsight

After fermentation, the cocoa seeds must be dried before they can be scooped into sacks and shipped to chocolate manufacturers, which are mainly in developed climes. Farmers simply spread the fermented seeds on trays and leave them in the sun to dry. The drying process usually takes about a week and results in seeds becoming about half of their original weight.

Manufacturing Chocolate:

Image ref: Marou Chocolate

Once the cocoa beans reach the factory, they are ready to be refined into chocolate. Generally, manufacturing processes differ slightly due to the different species of cocoa trees, but most factories use similar machines to break down the cocoa beans into cocoa butter and chocolate. The fermented and dried cocoa beans will be refined to a roasted nib by winnowing and roasting. Then, they will be heated and will melt into chocolate liquor. Lastly, manufacturers blend chocolate liquor with sugar and milk to add flavour. After the blending process, the liquid chocolate will be stored or delivered to the moulding factory in tanks and will be poured into moulds for sale. Finally, wrapping and packaging machines will pack the chocolates and then they will be ready to transport.

Other products that can be gotten from processed cocoa includes; Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Beats, Cocoa Butter, pectin, potash and animal feed.

The benefits of consuming these products especially, the cocoa powder are enormous. Its richness in theobromine, helps to reduce inflammation, can protect you from diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It is low in fat and sugar. It is abundant in phenolic phytochemicals and flavonoids. With Zinc, present, it can help protect against oxidative stress, which is a major cause behind accelerated aging. Those who are watching their weight can have it without feeling guilty.

The challenges:

Globally, there are many hundreds of insects and pathogens recorded on cocoa and the diseases, rather than insects, whichever are the biggest pest problem to farmers. Black pod is an important fungal disease in Africa, responsible for estimated losses of about 44 per cent of global production every year, and attacks pods at all stages of their development. In outbreak years losses can be up to 75 per cent. Pest and disease management in cocoa has been heavily reliant on chemicals but most farmers cannot afford to treat their cocoa, or make only one or two applications a year.

Do you know of any other usefulness of cocoa that we have missed? Please share with us in the comment section.

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