|The Courier No. 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid Country Reports Sao Tomé-Principe-Senegal (European Community, 1992)|
by Dr Terry MABBETT
It is one thing to be one of the world's biggest producers of cocoa beans but quite another to be the world's top quality producer. Ghana can claim to be both.
After slipping back in the mid 1980s when its raw cocoa production "roughed at 159000 tonnes, Ghana has made a steady comeback with 1991/92 forecasts at 275 000 tonnes and a third place ranking in the world order of production.
However, throughout this period and irrespective of whether production was rising or falling, Ghana has maintained its position at the very top of the quality league. This achievement is the product of the world's most comprehensive and rigorous quality control inspection programme which has its roots back in 1927 when this West African producer first introduced inspections at the port prior to shipment and export. These individual checks evolved into a full scale inspection programme starting at the farm gate and progressing right along the marketing chain. But planned changes to Ghana's in-country marketing system may jeopardise years of achievement and reputation and chocolate manufacturers around the world are waiting to see if the top quality of Ghanaian cocoa is maintained.
Leading chocolate manufacturers are fearful for Ghana's traditionally high quality cocoa beans following the planned privatisation of the Government's total control of marketing. The loss of reputation for the 'Gold Standard' in cocoa quality and against which all other origins are judged could be catastrophic for this West African producer and chocolate manufacturers alike. Under pressure from the World Bank and within economic and political climates that are favouring the break-up of government monopolies and control, the Government of Ghana is actively seeking applications from interested parties to operate as internal buyers within the cocoa marketing system when the changeover occurs on I October 1992.
Currently there is total government control over the marketing of cocoa from the farm gate to the export market. Under the auspices of the Ghana Cocoa Board, strict quality control operates-from the time the farmer arrives at the local store with his fermented and dried cocoa until it is loaded on board ship bound for the country's export markets in Europe and elsewhere. Thus all cocoa leaving Ghana in export consignments from the port at Toma, and arriving at the manufacturer's factory overseas has a government seal of approval which importers: and manufacturers have come to recognise as being the world's best for quality. It is this achievement and reputation that is on the line if the proposed changes to Ghana's cocoa marketing system do not offer the same level of quality control that currently exists under the Ghana Cocoa Board.
The Produce Marketing Company (PBC) does all the purchasing of dried cocoa beans at the 'farm gate'. In fact Ghana's farmers are currently able to bring their cocoa to almost any of their 3000 local stores around the country which are ready at any time to receive the crop. PBC is responsible for the despatch of cocoa down the marketing chain within a tightly controlled system to the port from where the Cocoa Marketing Company, acting as an agent of government, is responsible for selling the commodity into the export market. Through its journey from the farm gate to the ship, the cocoa is inspected regularly by the Quality Control Division (QCD) which carries out a dual quality control and fumigation service for both PBC and CMC.
But things are changing and will continue to do so at an even more rapid pace. From October 1 1992, the Produce Buying Company will, as a limited company, be purchasing cocoa from farmers in competition with a large number of private internal buyers.
The Cocoa Marketing Company has already become a limited company and will now formally purchase and own the cocoa at the port, whereas previously it acted purely as an agent through the Ghana Cocoa Board. The Quality Control Division, also destined to become a limited company, will charge CMC, PBC and the internal buyers a competitive fee for their service.
The Cocoa Service Division (CSD) and Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), two wholly-owned subsidiaries of GCB, are key providers of support to the country's cocoa farmers. CSD gives support directly through extension services and provision of planting material while CRIG, with an international reputation, is central to continuing progress through research and development m all aspects of on-farm production. It is possible that CSD will move to the Ministry of Agriculture while CRIG will become the responsibility of the Ministry of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Quality control key
Chocolate manufacturers know that it is the strict quality control from farm gate to ship that gives Ghana's cocoa its consistent, number one quality. Rigidly-operated quality control m Ghana starts from the moment the farmer arrives at the local store with his cocoa. From there, cocoa beans at 7.5% moisture content are put straight into hessian export bags at the store and stay there during the journey to the port warehouse and onto the ship. Along this chain the beans are further inspected at the port warehouse and again before loading onto the ship. Indeed when a chocolate manufacturer m Europe or elsewhere slits open the bags of beans they are in just as good condition as when the bags were filled at the local store in Ghana.
It is not only the number of inspections that are crucial to maintaining this standard of quality but also the timing of inspections in relation to the marketing cycle. Rubbish and damaged beans contribute significantly to downgrade cocoa but chocolate manufacturers are agreed that it is poorly dried cocoa that is the biggest enemy of good quality, full chocolate flavour and absence of off-flavours. Dying is not just the physical evaporation of water from the beans but an extension of the oxidative stage of fermentation and thus plays an important role in reducing bitterness and astringency as well as developing the chocolate brown colour of well fermented beans.
Try as they might, manufacturers cannot process mouldy beans which have been poorly dried into products with a good chocolate flavour. Rate of drying is crucially important, for drying too slowly allows moulds to devdop which affect the taste and invariably cause off-flavours.
Similarly, a too rapid drying of cocoa does not expel a sufficient quantity of volatile acids (mainly acetic) leaving the beans with an unacceptable acid taste and more often than not, lacking in chocolate flavour.
Ghana has avoided this problem by providing a large number of up country village stores which are always ready to receive farmer's cocoa. Knowinz this, the farmer can take his time and dry his beans correctly and at the right speed, because he is not pressurised into meeting dead lines for weekly or fortnightly pick up. Of further assistance to the farmer and a benefit that is transmitted all the way along the cocoa marketing chain in Ghana through to the chocolate manufacturer, is that the quality control process at the store involves the farmer. It is carried out in his presence and he therefore quickly learns what makes good quality cocoa and those factors responsible for down-grading. Forewarned is forearmed and Ghanaian farmers weed out the rubbish and damaged beans before arriving at the store and ensure that their cocoa is properly dried. The net result is farmer education, farmer incentives and top quality, good flavour cocoa for the manufacturer. Having passed this first, rigorous quality-control inspection at the store the beans are bagged, sealed and numbered so the Quality Controller can be identified at any later stage when the beans are re-graded. The beans arrive at factories in Europe, North America and Japan in those same export bags.
As the changeover approaches, chocolate manufacturers look with some apprehension and foreboding to the situation in neighbouring Cd'Ivoire. This is the world's biggest producer but quality is less consistent compared to that of Ghana. Indeed the same cocoa produced in closely matched climatic conditions with similar on-farm processing methods never matches the quality or price attained by cocoa of Ghanaian origin. Ghanaian cocoa always fetches at least a £30-40/tonne premium over Ivoirian beans and when looking at the in-country marketing system, it is not hard to see why. In Cd'Ivoire, itinerant buyers purchase all the cocoa in the villages with almost no quality examination. Buyers may only come once a week so farmers often sell improperly dried cocoa in order not to miss the sale. Ivoirian farmers are thus less aware of the reasons for poor quality and the inclusion of rubbish and the blending of good and bad cocoa is commonplace. On delivery to the itinerant buyer in the village, the cocoa is simply placed into re-used "bush bags" with little quality control and it moves in these to the town stores and then to the factory at the port. If cocoa is purchased at moisture content in excess of the ideal 7.5%, then it may remain like that until arrival in the exporters « usine de conditionnement » in the port, several days or even weeks later, by which time many beans may be mouldy. Furthermore, at the port factory, good and bad qualities are blended to meet the minimum grade standards and this is then placed in export sacks. Quality control is carried out just before shipment, after the sacks are sealed, but these are not numbered to identify the grader.
Chocolate manufacturers appreciate that Ghana's system of in-country marketing is expensive to operate but point out that the country stands to lose a great deal more unless the proposed changes safeguard its top quality cocoa. One chocolate manufacturer put it on the line. « There is only one thing you can do with bad quality cocoa. That is to blend it with good cocoa, lower the overall quality of the bean and risk damage to your processed product».