top of page
  • joannaaztecarts

Ghana and the past, present and future of chocolate

Cocoa pods - ripe, yellow, green and red

70% of all the world's cocoa is grown in just two countries in West Africa - Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. In summer 2020 I had been speaking regularly to cocoa farmers in Cote d'Ivoire who supply multinational cocoa buying giant Nestle as part of my campaign to Keep KitKat Fairtrade. At that time I vowed that one day I would visit West Africa at the time of the cocoa harvest and see for myself what life was like for cocoa farming communities.

Five fair trade campaigners from York Fair Trade Forum wearing fairtrade mark T shirts and red cloth face masks with "I Stand With Farmers" printed in white
The York Fair Trade Forum asking Nestle to Keep KitKat Fairtrade. Image: Danny Lawson

The campaign was a success with 285,000 people signing my petition which encouraged Nestle to listen to cocoa farmers and increase their commitments to farmers and their communities. I decided to visit cocoa farming communities in West Africa and while my poor French made Cote d'Ivoire potentially complex, I started to build links with Ghana and in particular with Africaniwa, a group of people - predominantly women - from the Ghanaian diaspora living in the North of England. I started to work on their project Chocolate Has A Name which aims to introduce a curriculum based around cocoa and chocolate to the cocoa growing areas where they grew up, and which was lacking from their own education.

But it was only when my friend Bruce Crowther of the FIG Tree Fair Trade Centre suggested I travel to New Koforidua and help him source some of the cocoa beans he likes to use for his own delicious chocolate that my plans began to form. Bruce is the only chocolate maker who insists on exclusively making chocolate grown by a named cocoa farmer in New Koforidua, where all the cocoa farmers are part of the Kuapa Kokoo Fairtrade co-operative. When he does workshops with children and adults they can see a photo of the farmer who grew the beans and know a little of their story. This is true cultivator to consumer chocolate.

Joanna - white woman in a green and pink top and Judith black woman in a denim jacket with a cocoa tree and the sign saying this the first cocoa tree in Ghana 1879
Joanna and Judith at the site of the first cocoa trees in Ghana

Cocoa is native to central America. It was a sacred drink for the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico and Honduras. But it has been grown in Ghana since 1879. Legend has it that Tetteh Quarshie smuggled four cocoa pods from Fernando Po (modern day Equatorial Guinea) and planted them, and Ghanaians never looked back. In truth it was probably slightly more complicated than that, with the first pods planted in the 1860s by a group of Swiss missionaries who ran the school where Tetteh Quarshie studied. Their plan was to help the local community find a cash crop that would increase their income, arguably the first fair trade project in Ghana. The mistake the Swiss made was to try and plant the garden (which also contained coffee, plantain and other crops) on a European style garden plan, everything planted in individual neat rows. The hot sun shrivelled the plants and the crop failed.

Tetteh Quarshie witnessed this failure and grew up to become a carpenter who travelled extensively around West Africa. When he visited Fernando Po he spotted that farmers there were able to grow cocoa successfully. The big difference he saw was the shade trees creating a canopy above the cocoa bushes and the leaf litter on the forest floor. He brought this knowledge home and set about creating a successful cocoa industry. Between 1891 and 1918 exports of cocoa from Ghana increased from £4 a year to £4 million a year, and the country has never looked back. The cocoa farmers I visited - on two separate farms (one Rainforest Alliance certified and one Fairtrade certified) grow and process their cocoa in exactly the same way as Tetteh Quarshie would have.

But this system leaves most of the value in the hands of the multinational chocolate companies like Nestle. If this is the past and Fairtrade is the present of cocoa, there must be a better future for cocoa farmers, which is in cocoa processing and chocolate making.

The chocolate kitchen at fair Afric with Joanna Pollard and Mayqueen tempering chocolate
The FairAfric chocolate factory in Suhum, Ghana

I visited the FairAfric chocolate factory - one of only three in Ghana - which employs around 100 people, and sits in the heart of cocoa farms. The factory has solar panels to take advantage of the Ghanaian sun, and produces chocolate for the local and export market. They work with facilities in Tema which process cocoa beans into cocoa butter and cocoa solids, and develop great flavours of chocolate. I spotted some of their chocolate on sale in supermarkets in Ghana.

At the moment only 1% of the cocoa grown in Ghana is processed into either chocolate or cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, cocoa solids etc etc. The Ghanaian government has an aspiration for this to grow to 50% of all the cocoa grown in Ghana to be processed there. A bold aim, but a worthy one, as this is where the good jobs in Ghana's cocoa future will be. This is the future.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page