Making Cocoa

By Molly Marsh / November 2010

Wehplay, Liberia — David Kpan’s cocoa farm is a 20-minute walk from his home, across skinny dirt paths and small streams that lie under a couple acres of lush trees. Several of his kids trail after him, carrying colorful buckets and jugs of water.

When the green cocoa pods become yellowish-orange, they are ready to be harvested.  Kpan hoists a long stick with a hook on the end and quickly cuts the thick stem holding the pods to the trees. They drop to the ground with a soft thud. His 12-year-old daughter, Zlaymerno, collects the pods into a burlap sack, singing all the while, and brings them to four of her brothers who are sitting in a clearing.

Two of the boys whack the pods with sticks to break them apart; the other two scoop the gooey pink-white beans out of the shells into blue and orange buckets, and then hurl the shells onto a pile at the base of an enormous tree. Those shells are later used to make soap.

To get the highest quality cocoa possible, Kpan follows strict fermenting and drying procedures. That means that after the family finishes their work for the day, all the beans are gathered into a pile and left to ferment for seven days under layers of banana leaves.

“The fermentation process is important because that’s how we give flavor to the cocoa,” Kpan says. Of the four grades of cocoa, his is grade 2. “I can get to grade 1 if I follow the fermentation process.”

After a week, Kpan and his family carry the beans back to a solar dryer that sits near their house. The dryer is a huge help to Kpan and neighboring cocoa farmers.  Most farmers have to dry their beans outside, which is a significant obstacle in a country whose annual rainfall can sometimes reach 200 inches a year.

Inside the dryer, Kpan walks down an aisle with trays of cocoa beans on either side. He leans over the waist-level trays, spreading the beans out evenly and throwing the bad ones on the ground.

The solar dryer is one of three ACDI-VOCA has helped build in the community. The farmers provide the building materials and ACDI-VOCA supplies the plastic sheeting that wraps over the structure’s wooden frame. Kpan can adjust the plastic to let out condensation; an opening at the top also performs the same function.

After the beans are fully dry, Kpan bags them for market, hoisting them onto his motorbike for the trip. He can carry 100 kilos of beans at a time, and it usually takes him four trips to get his full harvest to the market.

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