Togo and Gabon: two promising outsiders

Continuation of the article

Forging a new chocolate generation

On top of optimizing the value of locally produced cocoa, Choco Togo is also as committed to Togo’s cocoa growers and consumers. For instance, in 2018, one of Choco Togo’s co-founders, Komi Agbokou, who is affectionately called ‘the Robin hood of chocolate’, along with other members of the co-operative, carried out a major local chocolate transformation and consumption awareness campaign across the length and breadth of the country, bringing sensible practical advice, information, and samples of Choco Togo products to some 500 different villages countrywide, the inhabitants of which had never even tasted chocolate before. The idea behind this initiative was first to show cocoa farmers what a bar of chocolate made from their very own cocoa beans looked like and how it tasted. Then the next thing was to show how mastering the cocoa bean value chain and consuming locally made produce (chocolate, juice etc.) can lead to value creation, employment and jobs, and generate better living conditions for Togo’s citizens, 70% of whom earn a living from the land, and 60% of whom live below the poverty level.

Fully aware that to maintain its position in the market, Togo can only rely on its high quality cocoa beans that are the result of a combination of fertile soil, specific flavors delivered by rare bean varieties such as the pure Amelonado (vegetal and wooded notes with a touch of coconut and almond), and the fact that everything is done by hand (manual fermentation using folded banana leaves, beans laid out by hand under the sun to dry so they are never in contact with machine-drier fumes), Choco Togo is looking to organic farming and obtaining fair-trade labels to give it a market edge. To this end, it is focusing on three specific areas.

  1. It is paying its cocoa growers twice the market rate for their produce (by locating transformation structures close to production areas, costs are minimized, especially transport costs, enabling this young business to pay its 1,500 produce suppliers better rates), and whom in exchange commit to abstaining from the use of pesticides.
  2. Choco Togo prioritizes female workers who transform the cocoa beans, which otherwise would have been flown to chocolate producing countries, and whose neat hands shell and treat several hundreds of kilos a day in the primary transformation facility in ‘Togo’s Cocoa Capital,’ Kpalimé.
  3. Third, Choco Togo offers local consumers access to high quality, high cocoa content, and affordable chocolate (1,000 FCFA/€1.50/$1.70 per 80-gram bar), that is also heat resistant up to 35°C (the rough texture of bars containing between 60% and 100% cocoa makes it heat resistant).
Women sorting cocoa beans for Choco Togo. ©Choco Togo

The whole challenge going forward is to develop sustainable local and regional markets, include local chocolate in Togolese food habits, (notably by way of innovative products such as chocolate drinks and chocolate dumpling cakes (Akpa)), and overturn the fixed belief that superior quality emanates from the West, which exports, at exorbitant prices, products that have been transformed from the output of undervalued manual labor that is carried out by Togolese cocoa growers. The Choco Togo philosophy of creating a virtual social and economic circle is only to be encouraged.

Read more