Cross-Country Learning Exchange: Enhancing West African Cocoa Flavor Quality

Author Eleazer Tackie

Program Associate, Agricultural Productivity & African Cocoa Initiative II
World Cocoa Foundation
Ivorian delegation in a group photo with Dr. Henry Kwame Dazahini-Obiatey, Deputy Executive Director of CRIG.

Picking up where I left off in 2018, my flavor journey continued in 2019 to share the Ghanaian cocoa flavor and quality experience with a delegation from Côte d’Ivoire. The Côte d’Ivoire delegation was made of representatives from Le Conseil du Café-Cacao, ANADER, Ivorian farmer cooperatives including CAVA, CAPRESSA, and ECAMON, the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), as well as Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), and the Maximizing Opportunities in Cocoa Activity (MOCA) project.

The journey started with a visit to the flavor laboratory of the Cocoa Abrabopa Association (CAA) in Offinso near Kumasi, Ghana and later to the flavor and quality laboratory of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in New Akim-Tafo, Ghana.

MOCA is a project that trains farmer operatives on good post-harvest management practices to help preserve the traditional flavor of cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire. MOCA has signed an agreement with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association to facilitate market access for producers and traders of quality cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire. The objective of this agreement is to encourage top shelf chocolate makers to source quality cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire in the future. The WCF African Cocoa Initiative II (ACI II) program supports the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon to preserve the traditional flavor of West African cocoa.

Representatives of Le Conseil du Café-Cacao

ACI II and MOCA are collaborating to leverage the existing Flavor Quality Laboratory at CNRA in Bingerville, Côte d’Ivoire. The collaboration promotes awareness of how to preserve traditional cocoa flavor in Côte d’Ivoire and how to train more farmers and cooperatives in harvest and post-harvest management practices. This is done specifically by improving and expanding the trade of cocoa and cocoa products, processing and post-harvest handling techniques, and strengthening market linkages by organizing farmers into groups to adequately meet the existing market demand.

Visiting the CAA and CRIG flavor laboratory

Dorine Kassi, a flavor consultant (left), practicing pruning on a CAA member’s farm with Ismaila Pomasi (right)

CAA is an association of different farmer groups in all cocoa growing regions of Ghana. CAA accounts for about 7,000 trained farmers on harvest and post-harvest management practices that meet the quality standards for export to its international buyer (Ascot Amsterdam). CAA has empowered well-trained field staff and coordinators with android tablets to ensure that these standards are met in the field. In addition, CAA has developed modules for their farmers on good agricultural practices such as pruning, rehabilitation, pest and disease management, and diversification.  During his interaction with the visitors from Côte d’Ivoire, CAA council Chairman Mr. Pomasi Ismaila recalled how these trainings and modules have contributed to boost productivity and the livelihoods of CAA’s farmers. He later invited all visitors from Côte d’Ivoire to join him in a field pruning exercise, followed by pod harvesting, pod breaking using wooden tools, and preparation of beans for fermentation. Our friends from Côte d’Ivoire left CAA with plenty of ideas about how to replicate what they had learned at home.

After our visit, we embarked on a six-hour journey from Kumasi to the CRIG in New Akim-Tafo. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by the Executive Director of CRIG and the flavor lab manager. We started with a quick tour of CRIG facilities that ended at the ACI II flavor lab.

The CRIG flavor lab was established in two phases. Phase 1 included the purchase, installation and calibration of small processing equipment, such as a moisture meter, guillotine, roasters and one to prepare liquor. The ongoing phase 2 includes providing the laboratory with heavy and large equipment that will enable processing a large quantity of samples and liquor.

We were invited by the lab manager to follow all steps from pod harvest to drying that ensure the preservation of flavor quality. My most mind-blowing experience during the visit was when we were all invited to taste different liquor samples prepared after different procedures from post-harvesting to drying—the difference was immense and palatable. This is where we clearly understood CAA’s work and the need to continue educating farmers on best practices during harvest and post-harvest handling.

Building strong collaboration to preserve traditional West African flavor

Recently, cocoa breeding programs have focused on resistance to disease, yield, bean size, fat content, and pod value. With the concentration on these desired physical characteristics over time, flavor quality has deteriorated. The historically rich, intense chocolate flavor found in the West Africa region has become increasingly more acidic and dull. This has affected this region’s prominent position and growth within the premium segment of the chocolate market.

The ACI II-MOCA collaboration seeks to educate and train more extension agents from ANADER, cooperatives, and farmers. Staff from the flavor laboratory at CNRA have been trained by their counterparts from Ghana. Further activities will develop in-country capacity to incorporate sensory analysis in cocoa breeding programs to accurately assess planting material for flavor quality and to protect and preserve the important, historic flavor of Ivorian cocoa while addressing cocoa farmers’ needs to produce better cocoa beans.

What did we take home?

The delegation emphasized the need to strengthen and encourage this learning exchange initiative in the future, as it helps farmer cooperatives understand what other farmers are doing right. The group discussed the need to create and implement informed policies that encourage farmers to ensure they produce good quality beans. Policy makers will also need to consider incentive payments on quality beans as a means to encourage farmers.

Scientists present at the visit stressed the need to have extensive research into propagation methods that will preserve flavor quality and the traditional flavors of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Ivorian delegation listening attentively as Alex (left) explains the reasons for variations in samples after the tasting.

WCF member companies supporting ACI at the time of the flavor lab’s inception were ADM Cocoa; Barry Callebaut; Blommer Chocolate Company; Cargill; Continaf BV; Ferrero; Guittard Chocolate Company; The Hershey Company; Lindt & Sprüngli; Mars, Incorporated; Mondelēz International; Nestlé; Noble Resources; and Olam International Ltd. TCHO served as a technical partner to WCF for the flavor lab portion of ACI.