Ghent University boosts sustainable cocoa cultivation in Ghana

Cacao-onderzoek in GhanaCacao-onderzoek in Ghana

Researchers of Ghent University are teaching Ghanaian cocoa farmers how to produce better and more cocoa beans in a sustainable way.

With a share of 20% of the premium cocoa beans on the international market, Ghana plays a significant role in the global cocoa production.

However, the last couple of years Ghana has suffered low productivity rate and limited profit margins in its cocoa production. This not only causes issues for the Ghanaians, but also for example for the Belgian chocolate industry where 1 fifth of the imported cocoa beans comes from Ghana.

To increase both the production and the quality of Ghanaian cocoa, Ghent University started a research study in 2014 with more than 700 Ghanaian cocoa farmers. The results were presented on November 13 to the farmers.

Issues

The research project found several reasons for the low productivity and fluctuating quality of the cocoa beans in Ghana.

Professor Koen Dewettinck explains: "The cocoa production in Ghana is dominated by small farmers who only produce enough to live on. But they are confronted with issues like diseases, vermin, low soil fertility and irregular rain periods due to climate change. Together with their limited technical knowledge, this results in less and more expensive cocoa on the market."

Focus on quality and sustainability

To tackle this, researchers started investigating sustainable solutions that would help the cocoa farmers produce more and higher quality cocoa beans.

"A lot of the damage on cocoa plants can be avoided by introducing agroforestry and climate smart systems. Experiments to measure the effects of shadow, fertilization and climate change are necessary", says professor Pascal Boeckx.
"After the harvest, some things need to change as well, for example the way in which cocoa beans are fermented and dried, because this also has an impact on the final quality. Cocoa farmers who deliver sustainable, well fermented and well dried beans, should receive a bonus. This will give the Ghanaian cocoa bean - and its selling price - a serious boost."

Top-origin chocolate for niche market

Research also found that chocolate from a certain region has a specific flavor. Chocolate made with cocoa from Western Ghana tastes fruity, while cocoa from central Ghana gives a more nutty flavor and cocoa from Eastern Ghana tastes bitter. With this so called top-origin chocolate the researches want to address a niche market.

"Chocolate with a specific taste and aroma can be used to address a market with products of a higher price category. This will increase the price for both the farmer and the chocolate producer, and should result in a higher income for the cocoa farmers."

Cocoa Farmers Day

On 13 November the researchers presented their research solutions during a Cocoa Farmers Day in Ghana, to 30 farmers representing 6 Ghanaian cocoa regions. The event was organized in cooperation with the University of Ghana and the Ghana Cocoa Board, a governmental institution that supports the cocoa farmers.