What you need to know:
- Many cocoa farmers still rely on exporting raw beans, but local processing and encouraging local consumption offer the chance to build up revenues and create employment.
Cocoa is a perennial crop that responds well in tropical areas with maximum annual average of 30-32 degrees Celsius under shades and in areas with annual rainfall between 1,500mm – 2,000mm
The crop is Uganda’s fourth biggest commodity export after coffee, tea and fish and its production has seen a steady production increase over the years.
Cocoa is mainly used to process chocolate products enjoyed by billions of people around the globe. Surprisingly few people know the history of the confectionery.
Experts note that cocoa has appeared in different cultures worldwide hundreds of years ago.
It was first developed as a crop from the wild varieties in ancient South America cultures, with the people from Aztecs and Mayans empires (current Mexico and Costa Rica) being well known of these indigenous population. Agricultural science experts believe that when Spanish political leaders arrived in the new era and began colonising some countries in the world including some African countries, they discovered the value of cocoa crop and brought in their own innovations of appropriate cocoa drink.
In Uganda, experts at the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) are leading in research in cocoa by developing varieties which are favourable for farmer adoption.
Dr Patrick Wetala a retired scientist who worked at NaCORI in an interview with Seeds of Gold notes that organic cocoa varieties are mainly grown in the districts of Bundibugyo, Mukono, Jinja, Kamuli, Buikwe, Masindi, Mayuge, Iganga and Kayunga on small scale.
It is estimated that only about 15,000 farmers across the country are involved in growing cocoa.
Some of the cocoa varieties grown are Upper Amazon, Forestero which has yellow pods , Criollo is red in colour and and Trinitario which is a cross between Forestero and Criollo. It is red or yellow in colour and has long pods. It is high yielding.
Another variety grown widely in Uganda is Amelanado which is yellow and red in colour and high yielding.
According to Dr Wetala, cocoa cultivation was introduced in Uganda more than 100 years ago but its fortunes have fluctuated over the years because the government is concentrating on coffee production.
He contends that outputs picked in 1960’s but the subsequent government neglect lead to price fluctuations in the 1970s and 1980s. However, it is picking up because a number of stakeholders have been brought on board to sensitize farmers to grow it massively as income earning initiative.
As such, agriculturalists are now coming on board to add value to cocoa as an income generating initiative.
One such a scientist is George Sserwadda, a former agricultural extension service worker of Luwero District who is processing cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
Sserwadda narrates that in 2020 during Covid -19 lockdown he came up with the idea of adding value to cocoa because he was interacting with several farmers growing cocoa. He says he wanted to offer them better purchase price compared to the price offered by middlemen.
Sserwadda and his family set up a processing plant in Wobulenzi, Luwero District under their business trade name Kait Industries Ltd.
The team purchased a locally fabricated grinding machine with capacity to crush cocoa beans worth two metric tonnes per month with hope of increasing in the near future to 5,000 metric tonnes.
They go out to purchase cocoa beans from farmers mainly in central Uganda giving them six percent more in price. Currently the prevailing price is Shs6,000 per kilogramme but Sserwadda purchases a kilogramme at Shs7,500.
Usually the family ensures they purchase enough stock during harvesting season which they store in bulk.
The process usually begins with sorting the cocoa beans and it is hurled where the husks are removed before it is roasted. Once roasting is done then it is crushed.
Then nibs are ground with the grinder machine and the paste is pressed on a hydraulic pressing machine and squeezed to remove the cocoa butter. The cocoa cake is then crashed with a fine grinder to obtain cocoa powder which is packaged in one kilogramme. They sell each kilogramme at Shs25,000.
Some of the products made using coco are done in confectionery industries to process cocoa flavoured cakes, biscuits, bread, waffles and sweets among others.
When ripe cocoa pods are harvested, they are cut open and the beans extracted. There is a mucus membrane that is removed to make cocoa liquor. Just like coffee, it can be roasted or ground into cocoa powder