In the Center Region, 120 kilometers south of the Cameroonian capital Yaounde, lies the township of Ngomedzap.
The hilly terrain is overgrown with lush vegetation and large trees grow out high above the green canopy. As one drives along the red-dirt roads in the country side the homesteads of the villagers are surrounded by productive home gardens: the abundant palm, banana, papaya and mango trees; the cassava plants, maize and millet almost make one forget that this is one of Cameroon’s most productive zones for cocoa. The cooperative was able to increase and improve the quality of its production with support from SNV’s Green Cocoa Business Service Centre (funded by GIZ).
Walking deeper into the tropical forests, the farmers may show you their well-kept plantations of cocoa that they grow as a cash crop. Having been encouraged to plant cocoa, farmer families have become experts in managing this crop without damaging the surrounding forests, leaving many of the shade trees and other species that are important for a vibrant bio-diverse eco-system. Many families have their own fermentation and tray drying units that are fully loaded during the harvest season. Sometimes they joyfully drink the cocoa juice that drips from the freshly opened pods.
In recent years, the members of the cooperative, both women and men, have received training from the Green Cocoa Business Service Centre to improve their techniques. There have received guidance on the fermentation process they can use best in the weather conditions in their region. Farmers have become very specific on the frequency of rotation of the beans and the time needed for a good fermentation. Professional solar dryers have been built, with modern humidity meters and temperature control, ensuring that even during the wettest days, cocoa can be dried without the risk of mold or fungus growth. As a result, the cocoa beans are now of a superior quality.
The cooperative now also hosts a professional nursery where improved varieties of cocoa are being bred. The Business Centre has also promoted inter-cropping with other fruit trees, such as wild mango and citrus trees, to ensure a more divers production.
The cooperative has built a cocoa transformation unit that includes a roaster, cocoa press and grinders. Young women and men in the area are trained in the production of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The first products are now coming onto the local market, giving a well needed extra income to farmers and young people in the area. Recently a number of trials have been made in making some local chocolate. Roasted and milled cocoa is combined with cane sugar, resulting in rough, but very tasty chocolate product. For some farmers, this is the first chocolate they have ever tasted.
As a result of the efforts, the cooperative is achieving a higher quality cocoa beans. However, local traders often do not recognise the quality differences and larger buyers use their power to keep prices low. Therefore, the cooperative also is looking to establish direct relations with buyers outside the country. Although the bulk of the cocoa is still sold on the local market, they are separating high-quality lots for direct export in the hope to build a sustainable and long-lasting relationship with buyers interested in specialty beans from Cameroon.