Should Africa consume more of its own cocoa?

It’s certainly a logical suggestion: in an effort to make cocoa-producing countries in Africa less dependent on consumers abroad, why not increase domestic consumption of cocoa products?

While Africa produces more than 75% of the world’s cocoa, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the continent consumes only about 2% of this produce. The remainder goes to Europe and the United States, which, some claim, have too big a say over cocoa prices as a result—prices that are set without much consideration for production costs.

A glut of cocoa has also played a part in forcing down prices fetched by the commodity on the international market. In addition, European cocoa buyers have tied lower prices to bad-quality cocoa beans from Africa.

“The most pragmatic way for Africa to control what goes to the international market in order to influence the cocoa price is to significantly increase local consumption within Africa,” says Abiodun Falusi, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Ibadan in south-western Nigeria.

“African countries, though the largest producers, cannot influence prices [of cocoa] due to bulk export of raw cocoa beans, low level of domestic consumption ...
and weak demand in the major consuming countries—which calls for the development of a sustainable policy framework for African cocoa in the world market.”

Resolution

In fact, a resolution on increasing local consumption of cocoa was taken during a meeting of eight African cocoa-producing nations during May this year, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. (The attending states comprised Côte d’Ivoire—the world’s largest cocoa producer—and Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, São Tome and Principe, Togo and Uganda.)

The countries agreed that this should be achieved through development of cocoa-consumption habits, raising awareness among citizens of the nutritional and health benefits of cocoa products—and encouraging research, development and commercialisation of new cocoa products.

“We all agreed at the Abuja summit that we will encourage the local consumption of a higher proportion of cocoa ... because when we consume a lot of it locally, we will be in a position to reduce what goes out to the international market, and by this we can control prices,” Akinwale Ojo, executive secretary of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Inter Press Service in an interview from Akure, in south-west Nigeria.

The CAN is an umbrella organisation for the country’s cocoa farmers, processors, buyers and exporters.

But implementing this resolution is likely to prove something of a challenge, says Angela Okisor, an agriculture analyst based in the Nigerian financial capital of Lagos.

“The level of poverty in the various countries makes the consumption of cocoa products a luxury. For example, how much can an average Nigerian set aside for cocoa beverages each month given the economic situation of the country?” she asks. According to the 2005 Human Development Report, produced by the United Nations Development Programme, about 70% of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.

Taking the initiative

Steps taken by Nigeria’s government in recent years might show the way.

Authorities in this West African country have introduced cocoa as supplement for children, as part of an initiative to provide free lunches at schools. Under a pilot programme that got under way in April last year, 2,5-million primary school pupils in 12 of the nation’s 36 states are being given at least one meal daily, and a cup of cocoa.

The initiative is aimed at increasing enrolment, so that Nigeria can attain universal primary education. Research by the Ministry of Education has shown that a substantial number of primary-school pupils do not eat enough to ensure proper school attendance and performance, while almost half of the children between seven and 15 years are under-weight.

In addition, “The introduction of cocoa drinks in primary schools as part of the school feeding programme of government, if successfully implemented, will inculcate the habit of cocoa-beverage consumption in Nigerian youths and eventually adults,” says a 2005 report by government’s universal basic education committee.

Officials further plan to ensure that within the next few years, 50% of cocoa beans harvested in the country is locally processed to produce beverages for domestic consumption.

The Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, based in Ibadan, south-western Nigeria, has also developed varieties of cocoa products—including cocoa cream, liquor, cocoa bread, cakes and biscuits—that could be put on the market. However, the institute is finding it difficult to convince investors to buy the patent rights for most of these products, a critical step towards mass local production.

Warns Falusi: “Without a drastic increase in local processing of cocoa, the campaign for increased domestic consumption will continue to be a mirage.”

Price control

Some have speculated about creating a situation in which African producers would exercise the same degree of control over cocoa prices as the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) has over oil.

But the CAN’s Ojo does not believe this is likely. “To say we will operate like Opec is impossible, because cocoa is an agricultural product—one can not predict if it will do well in any given year. Production is controlled by a lot of things, including weather and pests,” he notes. “But, what the summit has put in place will lift the industry.”

In a communiqué issued at the end of the Abuja meeting, cocoa producers also agreed to target countries that are not considered traditional consumers of cocoa, such as China and India, in “aggressive international campaigns” intended to spark greater consumption. Furthermore, they plan to promote intra-African trade in cocoa products through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and regional blocs.

The fate of millions could be affected by these initiatives.

“In Africa, cocoa provides employment for over two million farming households directly, with another five million indirect beneficiaries in the form of input provisions, marketing, warehousing and quality control. A larger figure is employed in other support services,” said Adamu Bello, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, at the Abuja gathering.

“In all, well over 20-million Africans in the major producing countries rely on the cocoa economy as a source of livelihood.”—IPS

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