The International Cocoa Organisation is celebrating 25 successful years as the main controlling mechanism for this vital crop. Radical changes in the system are afoot and the implications may be vast. ANVER VERSI discussed these and other issues with Mr John Newman, Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board.
Mr John Newman, chief executive of Ghana Cocoa board, is a slimmer's nightmare. Eat more chocolate," he enthuses, "it's delicious, it's nutritious!" And it's precious to millions of Ghanaians and Ivoriens. Between them, these two countries - with a little help from Nigeria - produce 50% of the world's output of cocoa. The demand for cocoa is rising - Cadbury and Nestle, among other major manufacturers of chocolate and cocoa beverages, have already opened factories in the huge Chinese market.
But Mr Newman is not satisfied. He wants the world to consume more cocoa products, especially chocolate. Some 75% of Ghana's cocoa is of the very highest quality and indispensable in the production of the top range of chocolate. It gives a bar of chocolate that special, magical taste and smoothness that makes it irresistible to babies and grand-parents alike. Chocolate is also a luxury that can be enjoyed by both the rich and the poor.
"There is more to chocolate than taste," says Mr Newman, "it is nutritious. It is good for you. We want more people, especially those who do not have a culture of eating chocolate, to discover its delights."
Among these, ironically, are Africans themselves. Cocoa in most of West Africa is simply a means to an end - a crop to be sold so that other things can be bought. Even in this capacity, it is of prime importance to the economies of the producing countries. "Cocoa is the corner-stone of the life of millions of Ghanaians," Mr Newman says. "There are about 600,000 cocoa farmers in our country. Each farm supports some 15 or so dependents. The cocoa plant is part of mixed farming. There is no turning away from cocoa."
Cocoa contributes some 35%-40% of Ghana's forex earnings, 18% of GDP and employs 45% of the agricultural sector. This season, Ghana expects to produce some 335,000 tonnes; last year the figure was around the 400,000 tonnes mark. "That however, was a fluke," says Mr Newman, "brought about by exceptional weather conditions." He believes that with careful expansion of the sector, Ghana will be able to consistently produce around 400,000 tonnes by the turn of the millennium.
Impressive as Ghana's production...