Cocoa is the chief agricultural export and the main cash crop of Ghana – the second largest exporter of the commodity in the world after Ivory Coast.
Apart from exporting the crop, a number of companies in Ghana also process it into various products including: chocolate bars, bread spread, couverture, beverages, confectionaries, coco liquor, among others.
After extracting the semi-finished and finished products from the cocoa crop, the cocoa mass residue also serves as raw material for the production of soaps and creams.
Four decades of processing
Madam Mary Dogbe, a 74-year-old mother of five, resident at Tema Community Four, is one of the committed small-scale business women, who have been turning the cocoa mass into useful products.
She has done this for more than 40 years now.
As a young girl growing up in the Volta Region, she watched her aunt process pomade until she moved to Tema in 1964, and started working at the Cocoa Processing Company (CPU).
The idea to process the cocoa mass into cocoa butter, popularly known in Ghana as “Cocoa Nku” was conceived after she started a family, and had to stay home for some time - she recalls with a broad grin.
She decided to collect some of the mass and the burnt cocoa seed shells, which was used as soda for the preparation of soap.
This, she sent this to her aunt in the Volta Region to use in making her pomade as a new product, and when she became successful, she dedicated some time to learning the formula, leading eventually to the start of her own production in Tema.
Cocoa Butter Business
Madam Dogbe who still works with the support of a walking stick, took the GNA through the processes of making cocoa nku.
The process starts with the purchase of the mass from known cocoa processing companies, especially the CPC.
In the early stages, she sourced the mass for free, but according to her, when the management of the CPC learnt that the mass and soda residue were processed into new products, she was asked to officially apply for and pay for it.
The mass, she explains, is put into a bowl and mixed with hot water, followed by thorough kneading for the oil in the residue to float on the surface.
This oil is then collected and set aside, while the remaining mass is then poured into a barrel and cold water poured on it. It is then stirred for more oil to be collected.
The second oil collected is put on fire and heated for hours, while the previous oil collected is gradually poured in and left to heat for a while until it is well done. A yellowish oil appearance indicates that it is not well done.
Madam Dogbe says the refined cocoa butter is then left to cool down for about two days, during which the product hardens up. It is kneaded again to further soften to into a thick creamy texture. Subsequently, it is poured into popsicle molds to shape out.
Business then and now
Reminiscing the good old days, she says customers came from far and near including Togo, Volta Region, Ashanti Region, the northern part of the country, and even Europe, to purchase the product at wholesale prices for retail at their various stores.
Those days, she could process about 100 kilogrammes of cocoa butter in one production and make good profit.
"It sold like hot cake,”she animates, but now, she worries that the once thriving business has suffered from many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the closure of borders and the fear of people to travel generally.
She says it is even difficult and expensive to get the cocoa mass to buy as there is competition from some foreign nationals, who are buying it from the cocoa processing companies, thus leading to regular upward adjustments in prices.
Her last production was two months ago, and it was just 50 kilos - half of her peak capacity.
Appeal to government
Madam Dogbe believes that her business, just like other distressed small scale businesses, can be revived with some assistance from the government and other helpers.
She needs equipment, such as a machine to process the mass. Other incentives could also help expand the business so she could train and provide jobs to successive generations.
Indeed, she had over the years trained and helped many young ones to establish themselves in the business. Yet, she realises that the business will attract more of today's generation when some of the manual processes are done by machines.
Benefits of cocoa butter
Most people confuse the sweet-scented “Cocoa Nku” on the market with the equally beneficial shea butter - predominantly produced in the northern part of the country.
However, the two are not the same, though they look like it.
Having some of the cocoa butter in a home is a must, she insists, and explains that it can be used for the massaging of babies to relax their muscles. The cocoa butter massage also soothes the skin of patients with measles, eases joint and waist pains, alleviates the discomfort from feverish conditions, cold, and cough, among others.
Other benefits include; reducing hair loss, preventing some visible signs of ageing, such as wrinkles, fading scars, and slowing down the onset of male-pattern baldness.
It also reduces inflammation of the skin.
For these, and many other benefits, Madam Dogbe looks to receiving help to rebound her business for the sake of generations. "My toil over the past 40 years can't end in regret," she pleads, as she raises her hands to the heavens in a silent prayer.