Farmers are reaping the benefits of the high price of cocoa on the international market. Last season, one kilogram of dried beans topped CFA1800 at the Douala port. It was 1,200 the previous season.
There has never been a better time to be a cocoa farmer, said Augustine Ako, the president of Grace Devine, a famers’ cooperative based in Bertua.
But, seeing a future beyond exporting beans to European and other markets, farmers are flooding the market with locally made chocolates, cocoa butter, beverages, an assortment of oils and even cocoa-based alcohols.
“The income is far better when you transform,” said Ako, who leads a cooperative of 70 members.
Farmers say they are encouraged by growing demand. Consumers are choosing locally processed cocoa-products because of claims that they are healthier. A variety of cocoa-based oils are sold on local markets as pain killers, skin toners and even anti-diabetic tonics. With demand for organic products growing, farmers believe they can easily compete with industrial giants like Nestlé.
“What we are doing, we do not add any chemical products. It’s just natural and natural products cannot be compared with others,” said Ako.
Homemade cocoa derivatives reach the markets in bottles, sachets and even buckets. They take forms such as bars, tablets, roasted beans, powders, oils.
But this growing variety is not yet backed by large quantities. Farmers are only able to process about 10 to 15% of what they produce. They lack money and machinery to scale up transformation. Most work from backyards and kitchens, using family labour and household appliances.
Consequently, most of the cocoa produced in Cameroon is still destined for export. The government’s ambition is to triple annual national export to 600,000 tons by 2020. Last year, the country exported 229,910 tons, according to the National Cocoa and Coffee Board.