wake up and smell the chocolate!


I had fun on my trip to Helsinki a fortnight ago – not just touring and doing fun stuff of a general nature, but talking to people about what Uganda is really about and what we (and they) need to do for us to develop.

It is no longer surprising to find people out in the world believing that Africans are generally poor people who need to be “helped” out of a bad situation. If we are all honest with each other, we will acknowledge that we ourselves follow that theme. That’s why city people ‘help’ village people; senior managers a.k.a. bosses ‘help’ junior colleagues, clients ‘help’ suppliers, and ‘tusaba gavumenti etuyambe’.

The world has been conditioned to think this way over the years.

It has us on a staircase of sorts, and keeps urging us to climb but we fall backwards painfully oft-a-time – but it’s not all their fault.

And one day when I go to further my official education I will write a dissertation entitled ‘The Staircase of Development’, following the stairs up which we climb in order to develop.

Staircase of DevelopmentSome stairs are very steep and ungainly and never really take you anywhere, such as that first one called Development Aid – and you always fall backwards off that one. Others are short, easy but can also be deceptive – like the ones called Fair Trade.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying Fair Trade is deceptive; it can create a massive difference to this continent and countries like ours. What is deceptive is the way in which it’s benefits are sometimes presented.

Briefly, Fair Trade pushes for better trading terms and conditions for producers in developing countries, mostly higher prices.

I came across a few examples of Fair Trade and probably didn’t meet the best ones, thus my skepticism. The worst was a chocolate bar labelled ‘Uganda’, made, branded and packaged in Belgium, and being sold on a supermarket shelf in Helsinki.

On indexmundi.com as at Tuesday, June 3, cocoa was going for US$3,070 per tonne. But one slab of ‘Uganda’ is about Euros3, and is about 100g in weight. (Do your own maths around that.) 

Even as I tweeted a photo of the chocolate bar, I was disturbed by the image and

Oh Uganda, may God uphold thee!
Oh Uganda, may God uphold thee!

numbers, and remembered seeing the same chocolate in the United States, still on a supermarket shelf. After this encounter I went to the internet for more and found that the entire world finds this Belgian chocolate to be superb, tasty and extremely healthy because of Ugandan cocoa. 

The packaging reads, “Ugandan Forastero cocoa beans are renowned for their classic flavour and low acidity, highly sought after as consumers have discovered this exciting taste of Africa. This rich, dark origin chocolate with its high 80% cocoa content provides a supreme cocoa taste with hints of earthiness, mushrooms and a subtle smoky flavour.”

I even wrote Hageland, the company that makes ‘Uganda’, to find out if this chocolate was made out of only Ugandan cocoa, and a company spokesperson, one Patrick J. Brown, responded:

“Yes, it’s a single-origin chocolate, which means the cocoa is 100% sourced from Uganda. The cocoa is purchased in Uganda, and shipped to Belgium. Yes, we practice Fair Trade.”

Loving UgandaDo you know how much the local farmer sells cocoa at in this ‘Fair Trade’?

We need to wake up and smell the chocolate; and roast, package and brand it, as well.

How hard is the process of making chocolate that all of us, 35million Ugandans, can fail to do it? We can afford to buy up US$10,000 vehicles and yet can’t put up a chocolate manufacturing plant? We have people studying food, science and technology but they can’t make chocolate?

On the Hageland website (hageland-chocolate.com) they almost mock you: “Today, although the cultivation of cocoa has not changed fundamentally since the Aztecs, new technologies have enabled greater varieties and improved product quality and of course chocolate is now accessible to everyone…”

Except people in Kampala. And Hoima. Et al.

On the website, they even have a ‘How it’s made’ section that details the process!

But WE can’t even make one chocolate bar or type?

And Hageland is not the only company doing this.

At Divine Chocolate, which also “practices Fair Trade”, their company chairman, Jamie Hartzell, described how he “had the good fortune to visit a farmers’ co-operative in Uganda, from where Divine is considering buying cocoa. This was a pre-arranged holiday with my daughter, but we took a couple of days out to understand better how cocoa farming in Uganda works…”

“Seeing the first step in how cocoa pods in Africa end up as chocolate bars on our supermarket shelves was a great education…The opportunity to work with Ugandan farmers is a very exciting and innovative move. The Ugandan farmers of Bunyangule have never exported their cocoa before, so Divine is presenting them with a fantastic opportunity. Schooling is not free in Uganda, and for the first time they may now have the funds to ensure their children get an education…” 

They ones are doing these Ugandan farmers a favour!

Kingdom Chocolates (kingdom chocolate.co.uk) boasts that theirs is a unique project “bringing together not only cocoa quality and price, but also social standards that ensure a future for the farmers.” Whatever that actually means, it is under the title “Ethical Ugandan Cocoa”. These chocolates are supposed to have been available for sale from March 2013 in the United Kingdom, and are “British” chocolate, from Ugandan cocoa!

Then there is Puratos…the list keeps growing!

Cocoa was introduced into Uganda in about 1903 and we have grown it, dried it, and sent it back out ever since then in spite of all the schools, colleges and universities we have here. Over all these years, we have had thousands of Ugandans go through school all the way to Professorial titles, we have tycoons littered all over the place, and more supermarkets per capita than health centres, yet we cannot produce chocolate.

Or maybe we can:

Quite by accident, this week I found a Ugandan, Stephen Sembuya (www.pinkfoodsindustries.com) who told me we CAN make chocolate here out of our cocoa. A kilo of cocoa goes for Ushs5,000-7,000 farm gate (raw material), but after processing it you would get paid about Ushs800,000!

He himself has tried to make chocolate and will be giving me a couple of his products soon to taste. But he is as frustrated as many others, at how we nationally export US$50million worth of cocoa every year unprocessed!

And all to companies and people who are not scared of calling it their own and making 1,000 times more through value addition we should really learn here.

And why should they be?

We are happy handing over our organic, healthy, sweet, non-acidic, rich wealth in ‘Fair Trade’ while queuing up for development aid, driving vehicles that are more expensive than chocolate manufacturing plants, and importing chocolate to distribute in our so-called romantic pursuits that end up with us producing more Ugandans in the cycle.

11 thoughts on “wake up and smell the chocolate!

  1. Yap! Explore that scandal further you will come up against some very unpalatable truth that reach into such issues as population growth, democracy and of course poverty!

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    1. We need to get to the bottom of all this nonsense and change our situation quickly. I am about to stop eating chocolate for economic reasons and force people here to make some of our own.

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  2. Very painful realities these. For those of us in food processing, these are the issues we sometimes attempt to deal with and sometimes run away from. But not all hope is lost, i know of some serious young entrepreneurs who are in the process of developing their knowledge and capacity to begin making these products. Some people are waking up. Your boycott won’t be for long..

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  3. If we can figure out how to get us(Ugandans) to take more coffee than we do tea yet we are a top coffee producer then that chocolate thing will be a half-solved problem even before we tackle it

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  4. This is quite insightful. It is interesting how much we DO or DO NOT DO! We have the potential, it is time to take a few risks and put things on world stage. Though to me making Uganda products even in Uganda is very important. We were blessed with rich soils and hence the organic materials and subsequently the grey matter. We have the brains, let’s use them!!!!!!

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  5. Thank you for raising public awareness of the opportunities that Uganda has through your blog. I am glad you go beyond focussing on our woes and highlight opportunities. It is only in the last few years that I have really internalised the opportunities our rich soils and warm climate offer, and I for one am committed to impacting the communities around me to take full advantage of them.
    It is hard to believe that cocoa was first introduced to UG in 1903! Like you, It was not until I was at an international fair last year that I ever heard of Ugandan cocoa! The chocolatiers at this particular stand were raving about its quality of cocoa, and were willing to sign me on as a supplier on the spot if I was willing. I tasted that chocolate and, I can tell you, it was superb! But, as you say, although farmers sell it for fair trade prices, these are nothing compared to the value that we could add if we even partially processed it.
    I would like to add that one of the major obstacles that the many hardworking farmers in Uganda face is access to markets – this is well illustrated by the Bunyangule farmers that you mention. This makes it hard to convince farmers to try anything new – living on the edge of survival as they do, one can understand that they are not in a position to take on such risks. If they are guaranteed a market for their produce, however, farmers will produce. For those of us who may not be inclined to grow anything ourselves, I think this presents a MAJOR opportunity!

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    1. Thanks, Connie, for being well ahead of millions of others. If more of us make these realisations and work together sensibly rather than lament and play politics then we will certainly develop this country. Properly.

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