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July 12, 2007

Cocoa sun-drying under plastic encouraged in Nigeria

There is an on-going cocoa resuscitation programme in Nigeria, in which the government as well as stakeholders in cocoa production and industries are now giving renewed attention to the sector.

Well-dried cocoa beans bring better returns than partially dried, processed cocoa beans both in the local and international markets. Cocoa farmers in the country can now earn more from this cash and food crop by tapping from the knowledge and techniques of farmers in other African countries like Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. The new technique of making more and better profit from cocoa beans is a new sun-drying technique of cocoa beans being practised presently in Uganda. It offers the possibility of up to 25% better prices.

To fetch a good price, cocoa beans must be dried properly until their water content is about seven per cent by weight. Too much moisture not only spoil the cocoa scent and flavor, it can also stimulate the growth of mould, thereby reducing the market quality. The traditional method of drying cocoa in the open exposes the drying beans to rain, wind or clouds that slow the process. In Uganda for example, the country's Luzira Cocoa Processing plant - an Italian chocolate company- recently introduced a simple but highly effective new technology based on a special type of plastic sheeting that converts the sun's ultraviolet rays into infrared.

The beans are spread out to dry beneath the plastic after workers must have rubbed them over sieves to remove any dust or mould. The new technique empolys polythene sheeting which produces temperature of about 500c to 600c, drying the cocoa beans to perfection.

The cost of the new technology, according to reports, is £70 per meter square, including the aluminium frames to support the plastic sheets. The average small scale producer would need a capacity of between 10 and 15 square metres. The cost can be offset by using the set up for drying other crops like coffee, vanilla, chillies and maize during the coffee off-season.

The company in Uganda is also helping small-scale producers to find loans and is also providing technical know-how, as well as also guaranteeing the purchase of what it says is a superior product. The managing director of the company is quoted as saying that the costs also depend on the amount of sun available and other variables. But the point is that the method produces consistently good quality.

The Tribune

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