Cocobod and the beans that don't make the grade
When a cocoa farmer has harvested, fermented, dried and bagged up their beans the 64kg sacks are sent to The Ghana Cocoa Board. Have you ever tried to lift 64kg? It's a real challenge, and takes a specialist, which is where the cocoa carriers come in. Cocoa carriers haul the sacks onto transport in the villages and towns where cocoa is grown, and also work at the ports in Accra and Kumasi, loading and unloading cocoa for inspection by the government or delivery to customers.
I met Raymond earlier this year online as part of our World Chocolate day event and it was great to meet him in person when I visited Kumasi.
Raymond is from the North of Ghana and is a tall, elegant and soft spoken young man. His passion for improving the livelihoods of the thousands of Ghanaians who work in cocoa shines through and he took me to a project which filled a gap in the cocoa supply chain which I hadn't imagined.
Raymond introduced me to Nana who spent seven years working as a government cocoa inspector. He used to inspect, test and grade the cocoa that comes to the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) direct from Ghana's farmers. Bearing in mind that by the time the cocoa sacks arrive at the Cocoa Board the farmer probably hasn't been paid for a year, this inspection and grading process should be quick and efficient.
To inspect the cocoa beans a tool is inserted into the sack and a sample of beans is taken. The beans should be of similar size, well fermented (beans that are purple instead of brown inside are not properly fermented) and there should be no detritus like twigs and stones in the sample. If the beans are passed, the farmers are paid immediately. The price is set every 1st October and this year's rate is 800 cedis per 64kg sack which is an increase of 20% since last year. After the farmer is paid, the Cocoa Board goes about selling the cocoa to trade customers. By this point many of the big players in cocoa have already signed agreements with farmers to buy their beans, but it still has to go through Cocobod. Fairtrade buyers pay extra, including the Fairtrade premium and this goes to farmers and their communities. The government price (currently around 20% less than the Fairtrade minimum price) includes $400 towards the Living Income Differential - a pot of money the Cocobod uses to support farmers with training, equipment and community support.
Around 95% of all the cocoa sacks inspected by Cocobod are passed, but what about the 5% which are rejected? They are now the responsibility of the farmers - who may be several hundred miles away. Nana spotted a chance to help farmers. He offers to buy the rejected sacks of beans from farmers, and uses his experience to make the rejected beans acceptable to the government inspectors. Nana runs a small business in Kumasi employing around 6 people. When I visited he had 85 sacks of cocoa waiting for his staff to work on them.
Cocoa beans come in a variety of sizes, but customers expect a sack to contain beans that are all the same size. One of the main reasons a sack of cocoa is rejected is if there are different sized beans in there. The ingenious stacking system in the above picture is designed to help Nana and his staff to more accurately grade the beans. The holes capture beans of varying grades with the smaller ones falling through to the lower tiers. The beans are inspected in metal pans with stones, grit, rotten or mouldy beans removed. Nana then re-bags the beans by size into 64kg sacks and sells them back to the government. Some beans are not good enough to be used for chocolate but they can be used to make things like cocoa wine, black cocoa soap etc. Nana is passionate about ensuring that nothing is wasted, and I think this is a great example of the kind of entrepreneurial spirit I encountered everywhere in Ghana