The proof is in the…

Ghana is not a land of sweets.

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Certainly, the overprocessed and oversweetened are making inroads; just as surely as they have in India, child obesity and diabetes—those handmaidens of aspiring middle class’s tumble into the Americanized glories of cheap convenience—are waiting in the wings.

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It’s all the more ironic—and infuriating, frankly—given that Ghana produces a huge percentage of the world’s raw cocoa. In theory, Ghana could be Queen Mother of the chocolate world—both aesthetically and economically. But serious profits don’t come from raw goods; the price for such commodities is wildly unstable and largely set by the world market. Ghana’s Cocoa Board (known here as Cocobod) struggles to provide farmers with agricultural extension officer assistance and subsidies to cover the gap between inputs and harvest outputs, then buys individual small farmer harvests to negotiate the prices of larger aggregate bundles with foreign buyers. 

Only refined, ‘valued added’ products—cocoa transmuted into Lindt, Godiva, Ghirardeli—can really bring the the cash. Ghana as a whole, and certainly those individual farmers working small plots, doesn’t see that profit.

So for centuries, Ghana has been trapped in the raw export limbo. Unable to control the profits from a raw commodity that keeps their economy afloat, unable for the most part to convince cocoa refiners and chocolatiers to move or start their operations here, Ghana remains the land of cocoa without a serious contender in the global chocolate scene, held hostage to the commodity that was once thought be its ticket to middle income country status.

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This is not what I want for Ghana, or anywhere. But I would, occasionally, like something sweet that actually tasted of chocolate. Milo may be the drink of champions, but a gooey chocolate muffin it is not.

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There are three promising shifts in this regard. The first is Golden Tree chocolate, owned and operated in Tema (just outside Accra).

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They produce a baker’s chocolate (for whose ovens exactly?), a serviceable but nearly impossible-to-locate dark chocolate, chocolate ‘pebbles’, several interesting fruit flavors, and a widely available milk chocolate bar that is, sadly, inevitably chalky and hard. The promising thing about them is mostly that they’re home grown and seem committed to the notion, if I may coin a phrase, of cocoa sovereignty.

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The second is the limited-but-increasing sway of Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghanaian fair trade cocoa farmer’s collective started in 1993, and the tiny wave of chocolate bars made with their cocoa. Just as the Golden Tree products are largely limited to Ghana, these fair trade bars are not available in Ghana. The politics and economics and marketing around fair trade are complex, and there are valid concerns about actual benefits to farmers. Nonetheless Kuapa Kokoo, by buying small holders’ raw cocoa at a better price than that of Cocobod and then negotiating with them as a bloc—a Reuters report in 2011 put their holding at 8% of Ghana’s total cocoa output, significantly larger than any one small plot operation—does provide more collective bargaining power.

I hold onto hope that even if this doesn’t ultimately amount to significant fairness in Ghanaian livelihoods, at the very least the packaging from the chocolate bars made with fair trade cocoa might raise some global consumer consciousness. These bars include the Japanese brand ‘Ghana’; their packaging talks about providing bicycles for rural health care workers, which is cool, but isn’t quite on par with fair recompense for cocoa producers. More firmly committed to farmer payback is Divine, which partners directly with Kuapa Kokoo and honors Ghana’s venerable adinkra symbol tradition in their wrapping. It’s pretty widely available in the US and UK, and is a damn good chocolate bar.  I’m sure there are more out there using fair trade cocoa from Ghana.

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Photo credit http://www.thinkeatdrink.co.uk/

And last, but not least from my perspective, is locally available cocoa powder. Those who turn up their noses at anything but Dutch Process cocoa powder would probably still scoff, but in my book this stuff is the ish—not least of all because I can feel good about buying the product a little closer to the producers in the supply chain.

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What I really crave is baked goods using local cocoa powder, but again, without an oven, I’m left with: pudding.

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After the jump, a thick chocolate coconut** custard recipe I frankensteined from the internets. When I made this the first time, anthro-in-arms pal J and I ate it out of the bowl like dip with Thai coconut cookies. Yum!

*For the teachers and/or well-meaning pedants among us: www.papapaa.org (which incidentally means ‘really really good’ in Twi) has some useful resources for teaching about fair trade and Ghanaian cocoa. Oxfam has great resources about fair trade more generally, including this rad series of animated shorts on the ‘rigged rules of global trade.’

**Points to J, who asked the obvious and important question when faced with exorbitantly priced canned coconut milk (10 cedis vs. 1 cedi 20 pesewas for an actual coconut): ‘how is coconut milk made, anyway?’

Coconut Chocolate Pudding/Dip

1/2 C brown sugar
1/3 C cocoa powder
1/4 C flour
The flesh of two ‘hard’ coconuts (large and green, but with very little water) + approx 2 C water (one sachet water plus a little extra), blended
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tbs butter
1 healthy glug whiskey (Johnny Walker Red is my fave locally available sub for vanilla extract)

Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan, stir in milk, and stir briskly over medium heat until it’s bubbling. Keep cooking and stirring for another couple minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool somewhat, then slowwwwwly stir about a cup’s worth of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks, taking care not to let them scramble.

Return this mix of chocolate and eggs to the pan and put it back over heat. Stirring continuously, bring it to a gentle boil and allow to cook for another few minutes.

Once nicely thickened, pull it off the heat, stir in the butter and whiskey, and pour into a bowl. Cover and chill.

Scoop up with a spoon, some tasty biscuits, your fingers, etc. and heave a deep sigh of satisfaction in the midst of complexities.

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One thought on “The proof is in the…

  1. The issue of butter is an interesting one in South Africa, too. In rural, poor areas you just can’t find anything but cheap blocks of margarine. But in richer, urban areas, choices abound. Turns out butter = class.

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