Cocoa is the product of the fruit of the cocoa tree. In natural state, the cocoa tree grows to a height of about 10 metres or so, but it is pruned to a height of 6 to 7 metres in order to facilitate the plucking of cocoa pods. Its pods grow directly on the branches and main trunk of the tree. The cocoa pods, about 25 cm. long, contain about 30 to 40 cocoa beans. About fifty percent of the cocoa bean is a fat, known as cocoa butter, which is of great use in making confectionery.
Cocoa requires a hot, wet climate. A mean shade temperature of 27°C, with daily variationless than 8°C, and well-distributed rainfall of at test 12 cm, are the ideal climatic conditions for the growth of cocoa. It also needs a well-drained porous soil and a shelter from strong winds and direct rays of the Sun. These conditions are found in the main high forest belt of Ivory Coast and in Ghana, in west Africa and In Brazil. Cocoa is a fairly adaptable crop, and was successfully grown in African countries though the tree is the native of central and South America.
Planting of Cocoa Trees
To start a new cocoa farm, the farmer first clears away the undergrowth and thins out the forest, through leaving sufficient trees of suitable species to provide shade. Having cleared the land thus, the farmer usually first plants maize and cassava or, better plantain to protect the young cocoa. The cocoa itself is grown from seedlings raised in nurseries; more usually it is grown directly from seed. When the seedlings grow to a height of about 5 cm. or so, they are transplanted at a distance of about 3 or 4 metres. The planters also grow shady plants, in between the rows, in order to protect the young plants from strong winds and direct rays of the Sun.
The most commonly grown type of cocoa may give a first small yield after about five years, though the period varies considerably with local conditions and farming methods. But a full crop cannot be expected for at least ten years. The economic life span of the cocoa tree is not known; but under the best conditions of soil and management, it can be kept in bearing almost indefinitely.
The chief cocoa crop is harvested from September to January, which is the dry part of the year. The yields of crops vary; different soils, different local climatic conditions and different standards of cultivation, all affect the yield. A rough average would be about eight pods per tree at the main harvest; that is enough for about 1/2 lb. of dried cocoa.
In order to get cocoa, the pods are opened carefully so that the beans inside are not damaged. The beans and the sticky pulp surrounding them, are scraped out and placed in heaps on the ground, and are covered with plantain leaves to retain the heat which is produced by fermentation. Fermentation takes about six days. The process of fermentation produces changes in the beans; and it is during fermentation that the characteristic chocolate flavour develops. When the fermenting process is completed, the cocoa is dried in the Sun. When the beans are dry, they are put into bags ready for sale to the buyers. Once graded, sealed and sold, the cocoa is stocked in storage sheds at various centres. Later, it is taken by train or lorry to the nearest port of shipment. The busiest shipping season runs from November to April.
Ghana’s biggest customer of cocoa is Germany and Netherlands stand second on the list and the U.K. is the third user. The other important importers are France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Japan. Cocoa is the largest single source of foreign exchange to Ghana. The greater part of the cocoa crop is exported (about 96%) from the ports of Takordi and Tema; both ports have modern harbour facilities.