If you travel out of Nigeria to advanced countries you will discover for yourself by just looking around the airport shops, that Nigeria would be a fairly rich country if she specializes in producing just cocoa, only cocoa for export. You will obviously realize that CHOCOLATE or SMARTIES, the sweet candy delicacy processed from cocoa, which every traveler cherishes to buy for loved ones after a long journey, is most times valued far more than the most precious souvenir. You will also discover right in the supermarkets of these foreign countries that chocolate drink made by Nestle International or cocoa powder made by Cadbury is on each count the leading beverage brand.
The chocolate and cocoa drink experience is virtually the same across other continents of the world. If you do not take notice of the preference of chocolate drink over tea and coffee especially at dinners, you will not fail to take notice of the magic of chocolate as a key gift item. Once again, just get to the international airports and watch the craze with which people buy and pack chocolate sweets into their traveling bags and you will appreciate the deep sense of what I am talking about.
Yet, cocoa is just one of the numerous agricultural crops that Nigeria can produce; indeed cocoa alone can qualify us as an industrialized country if we decide to process the beans ourselves rather than export the raw to feed the machines in Europe and America.
Between the earth and the sun, Nigeria is perhaps the most endowed country in the world. Our country has wonderful and fertile soil, suitable for growing a variety of valuable crops. Regrettably, after decades of neglect, Nigerian extractive (mining and agricultural) sectors are falling far short of their potential.
With general reference to agriculture, there is hardly any State that is not uniquely suitable for cultivating or processing one crop or the other. The contribution of staple crops to the food basket or export base of the nation has astonishingly been allowed to fade. Where are the groundnut pyramids? Where is cotton? Where is rubber? Where is palm oil? The conditions for growing these crops in Nigeria are ideal but the country hardly produces any of these crops in commercial quantities.
With particular reference to Cocoa, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, and Osun States for instance offer just the right conditions for growing cocoa beans of exceptionally high quality; yet cocoa production in Nigeria has tumbled from over 300,000 tonnes in 1970 to little more than half that output now, with countries like Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon and Indonesia displacing us from the previous second position that we occupied after Ghana. Still currently in nearby Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, cocoa is a reliable industry and export earner as well as a big employer of natural labor. In Nigeria, it is a sad reminder of the country’s wasted opportunities.
Nature of Cocoa produce
Cocoa is generally the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree, from which chocolate is made. “Cocoa” can often also refer to the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the dark, bitter cocoa solids; or to a mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
The cocoa tree – Theobroma Cacao – grows in the warm and humid equatorial belt within 10°N and 10°S of the equator. Its origin is traceable to the tropical regions of Venezuela, Honduras, and Mexico. A cocoa pod has a rough leathery thick outer skin about 3 cm thick although this varies with the origin and variety of pod. It is filled with sweet pulp enclosing 30 to 50 large beans that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish in color.
Today cocoa is cultivated globally, much more so in narrow belts around the equator and most importantly in carefully grown plantations in the tropical rainforests of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Currently, nearly 70% of the crop is grown in West Africa.
Various production methods to diversify cropping patterns and improve production and marketing efficiencies can help to address some of the existing problems.
When the pods ripen, they are harvested from the trunks and branches of the Cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. The pod itself is green but when mature and ready to harvest, it may become red or orange. In fact, the red or orange pods are considered of a lesser quality because their flavors and aromas are poorer; hence, they are best used for chocolate production, industrially. The pods are either opened right there on the field and the seeds are extracted and carried to the fermentation area which may also be located within the plantation, or the whole pods are taken to the fermentation area.
Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening on the tree
In Africa, cocoa beans are generally harvested in September and October, although the season can continue until January or March.
The harvested pods are opened—typically with a machete—the pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo “sweating”, where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew.
The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet), and sometimes, during this process, red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the US, the Netherlands, UK, and other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.
Packaging & Shipping of the Exportable Raw
When the beans are dried, they are packaged in jute bags and shipped (usually by sea) mainly to Europe. Over the last decade, the beans are increasingly shipped in ‘mega-bulk’ parcels of several thousand tonnes at a time on ships, or in smaller lots of around 25 tonnes in 20-foot containers. Shipping in bulk significantly reduces handling costs; however shipment in bags, either in a ship’s hold or in containers, is still commonly found.