Facing Cocoa Shortage, Swiss Chocolate Makers Aim To Boost African Production

Famous for its chocolate production, Switzerland relies on Ghana for half its supply of cocoa beans, even as the West African nation now focuses on other export products. A new public-private Swiss partnership aims to inject new life into cocoa bean farmi

Cocoa beans get sorted in Ghana (Benketaro)
Cocoa beans get sorted in Ghana (Benketaro)
Kaspar Meuli

SUHUM – It was one year ago that Ghana's president John Atta Mills announced the country's first-ever launch of an oil platform. The December 15, 2010 pomp-filled ceremony, in front of television cameras, marked Ghana's arrival among the ranks of oil producers. Experts say that was also a bad day for the country's cacao producers, as the raw material -- a traditional Ghanaian export -- would no longer get the attention or investment necessary to be sustainable.

The situation was particularly disquieting to Swiss chocolate makers as Ghana is their most important supplier. More than half of the cacao beans transformed into chocolate in Switzerland come from the Western African nation. "Cacao consumption goes up globally by 2% to 3% annually, and that rhythm has been sustained even during crisis periods," says Kamillo Kitzmantel, General Manager of Lindt & Sprüngli Suisse. "Supply can't meet demand, as new suppliers like Vietnam or the Philippines have yet to show that they can deliver the required quality levels."

The Ghana Cocoa Board, a state-run organization that promotes cacao bean production, says that local trees have become too old, threatening to make harvests even more meager. If the 2011 harvest set a record it was only because of exceptionally favorable weather. And beyond the neglect of tree renewal initiatives, there is also a looming shortage of farmers. The average age of cacao farmers is around 55 years old – in a country where life expectancy is 58.

The face of such threats to its top supplier, Switzerland has stepped in with a private pilot project that is receiving Swiss government support. "We show farmers how they can earn money by growing cacao," Yayra Glover explains. "The first step is to get the farmers to feel proud of their production. In Switzerland, there are buyers ready to pay above market price if cacao is produced without child labor or the use of chemical products."

The Ghanaian entrepreneur lived in Switzerland for more than 20 years, then decided to return to Ghana to take up sustainable cacao farming. He is now located in Suhum, in the eastern part of the country, working with 2,500 small farmers who grow cacao organically.

Distribution chains and chocolate

Glover's initiative was possible thanks to his close partnership with Pakka, a Zurich-based company specialized in the development of fair trade for organic produce from southern countries. Pakka also sells products like nuts, dried fruit – and cacao.

"Producers in southern countries can't get into the European market on their own," says Balz Strasser, Pakka's general manager. "We support them by building the necessary networks and distribution chains." Part of the organic cacao from Ghana is thus delivered to Max Felchlin AG, a company in the canton (district) of Schwyz that provides chocolate makers and restaurants with semi-finished chocolate products.

A little more than four years on, the project has cost 1.3 million Swiss francs ($1.38 million). Nearly half (47%) came from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The private sector (notably Pakka and Max Felchlin AG) and non-governmental organizations in Ghana came up with the rest.

The example of Yayra Glover may inspire others. The Economic Cooperation and Development division of SECO foresees geographic expansion into the Volta region in the southeast. This would also be a way of stemming rural exodus. Several of Glover's young employees come from Accra, where they graduated from university. Today, they are dedicated to farming cacao. "I've bought some land of my own, and have put in some baby plants," says Samuel Quaque, a manager at Glover's company. "I imagine my future on a plantation, not in a city."

Read the original article in French

Photo – Benketaro

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