I have been reading a lot on Facebook these days about China growing and starting to export cocoa to Belgium, and people are raising that as a warning sign. Please, it isn’t a warning sign – it is a manifestation. Well, Buckle up, let me tell you a few stories.
In 2017-18 I used to be a Trainer on one of many courses in Public Financial Management on behalf of The Crown Agents of UK. Public Sector workers attending from Africa (60% from Ghana) will normally spend one full day (as part of the course) in a UK institution (we had partnership with) that was well known to be practicing a specific element of the course that we wanted to highlight to attendees. I enjoyed these partnerships because I learn a lot too from them. In these 2 years, my focus was on Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Policy, and the institution of choice was The University of Reading. They had a unit there (built by graduates from the same University), who had specialized in using Data to tell whether Public Policy was working or not, why, and what to do. This was the unit we went to visit.
That was however not the fascinating discovery. The exciting discovery in those 2 years, was that I found out the University of Reading (in cold cold cold UK), had built one of the most globally respected Cocoa Research Institutes right there on campus – and I was taken to see it – with my own eyes. It was a massive greenhouse structure, with artificially controlled weather conditions to resemble OUR tropical African (Ghanaian) environment. And there, they experimented with diseases common to cocoa, varieties of cocoa, yields, new strains artificially created etc etc. And here is the bit that got me – One of the professors, hearing I was from Ghana, told me they had collaborations with their Ghanaian counterparts and quickly added – some of their best students had come from Ghana, and work elsewhere. Times like that, you don’t know to smile or cry. I smiled to him and wept inside. Do we have a Cocoa Research Institute here in Ghana? Yes. Have they done some amazing work? Yes! Can they become world class? Damn, yes! Have we supported them to become a Global Poewerhouse in Cocoa Research such that the world comes to us? ….. Errrr….. Sorry, what was the question again?
Roughly about 33 years ago in 1989, Malaysia was nowhere to be found in the Global league of Cocoa Producer countries. Then they later decided they were doing well with only Palm Oil production, so why not Cocoa and other cash crops. It’s called “Scaling up Leveraged Economic Complexity”. Today, Malaysia hovers in the ranks of 5-8th top producers of Cocoa and more importantly is the biggest processor of cocoa beans in all of Asia. From nowhere? And yes, their meteoric rise was led by their Cocoa Research Institutes. They even import some cocoa apart from theirs, to feed their processing capacity, before exporting the semi or fully processed Outputs.
In 2014, during my research to write my book “The Marricke Gane Chronicles” which later got published 2015 and launched 2016 (a page attached – designed by my good Indian colleague Rajni), I projected a huge growing Middle class in Asia which meant, more chocolate demand etc (Some tastes come with having money abi). I even mentioned somewhere in there (if my memory serves me right), that the likes of Ghana’s COCOBOD had lost its focus and needed someone non-partisan with specialization in Business Recovery and someone commercially driven and with an understanding of global commerce. As an Institution, it is simply no more doing what it is supposed to, its core mandates is now blurred – in fact I used to be asking myself as a young Auditor of the same COCOBOD in the late 90’s early 2000’s what the heck an institution like this was doing investing in properties etc. And sadly, with the Financial results it churns out yearly – it is still one of those institutions GIVEN OUT as a reward to Big Party Faithfuls or Sponsors. Ask yourself why after 50 plus years…. it still Borrows money every year TO BUY COCOA WE GROW OURSELVES. Every Year. And we still have a Board that gets paid for sitting at meetings?
Dear Folks, China’s rise into the Cocoa sector IF “OUR LEADERS” CANNOT SEE IT, means one thing and one thing only – Eventual Surplus of Cocoa Supply and Cocoa based Products. Mark my words. Because EVERYTHING China does is Large scale, Export focused and NOT merely raw material driven. For all we know, their export to Belgium is merely a TEST Operation. THEY WILL SOON EXPORT the Chocolates and Confectionery from Cocoa themselves. Mark my words. Oh, by the way, these are the same Chinese we let into Ghana to destroy our cocoa plantations, in search of Gold, complicitely aided by our own citizens and our lack of regulatory environmental enforcement. Yep!!
Interestingly but sadly, we are YET to see any Substantive Diversification Policy to ENGINEER an entirely new economy away from Cocoa, Gold and Oil. And it isn’t for lack of evidence that the Global Prices and Demand for these 3 top export commodities are beginning to wane. We all know, don’t we? And if you care to know as a bonus, We used to be in the Top 5 Gold Producing Countries 4-5 decades back. Today, we are 12-14th according to the World Gold Council. Interestingly, the same organisation publishes a list of countries and institutions globally and how much Gold Bar Stocks (reserves) they hold (mostly to counter shocks in economic or currency dips) – Ghana, the last time I checked, was not in the Top 40 of that list, in spite of where we are ranked in Gold production.
People ask me why I don’t say much on Facebook or Social Media these days – truth be told, it HURTS to write these days. What is there to say, that we haven’t already said in the last 40, 30, 20, 10, or 5 years? What is there to say, that our Leaders don’t already know? What??
As I often say now – WE ALL DEY INSIDE – maybe until it eats us all up!!
By Marricke KOFI Gane