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Opinions of Friday, 4 October 2013

Columnist: Essel, Kojo Cobba

Ghana must run on cocoa

If you are reading this piece it is unlikely you will die of Malaria, HIV/AIDS and its complications or even from an infection. The bitter truth is that you will die from a cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease simply refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
Coincidences sometimes occur to drive home a message and World Heart DAY and the first Cocoa Festival in Ghana running side-by-side is rather interesting. World Heart Day is a day when conditions of the heart are brought to the fore and this year on the same day the health and financial benefits of cocoa were drummed home and this is good food for thought. Cocoa products have many health benefits but its cardiovascular prowess has been extensively studied.
It’s surprising that for a country like Ghana that has remained as one of the world’s top exporters of cocoa for decades this happened to be our first major cocoa expo. I have never seen such an array of cocoa products before. From the innovative chefs who used cocoa in preparing meals; starters, main meal and dessert, to the school children who pitched their knowledge of cocoa against one another, the pastries, the new packaging of chocolates (from a new company) and the interaction of stakeholders, everyone appeared excited.
It is my prayer that we will not allow this momentum to slip away. Ghanaians hardly consume any cocoa at all. Is it not strange that most of our West African neighbours do better than us? Even more intriguing is the fact that what our neighbours consume is nothing compared to those living beyond our continent. Cocoa has been associated with Ghana for several years but we seem to think it’s only for export to bring money into our economy. We need to put the branding experts to work but as individuals let us all play our role by consuming cocoa products and spreading the news that it is a lifesaver.
You may have heard that Cocoa among several others:
1. Protects the heart and blood vessels from conditions such a high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and heart attacks.
2. There is also some evidence that it may fight against many cancers.
3. Protects the liver in certain conditions.
4. Asthmatics may get some respite.
5. Sickle Cell patients may experience an improvement in their lifestyle.
6. May come in handy in controlling weight (avoid additives such as milk and sugar).
7. Men with difficulty maintaining an erection may experience some positive results.
8. Even more exciting is the fact that it may offer some protection against malaria.
Yes some of these claims require additional research but for most people cocoa products will positively impact on our lives.
My focus today is not to spell out the health benefits but to point out some ways that we need to approach aggressively. Remember cocoa may be bitter but many people from non-growing countries consume a lot of cocoa and find ways of making it sweet and attractive. Why do they go to this extent? Years ago cocoa drinks though bitter were reserved for the elite in society. Why? Centuries before Starbucks made coffee a lifestyle, cocoa had walked that path but unfortunately it dwindled off. This is the time to re-visit the golden pod but instead of limiting intake to the elite it should be accessible and affordable to all.
Recommendations for making Cocoa our own have been put forward and considering the health and financial benefits we should start now:
1. We should all endeavour to drink a cup or two of pure cocoa a day, or eat chocolate especially the dark variety (do not overindulge), eat a meal or even pastry made with cocoa.
2. Let us include children so it becomes a habit; the school feeding programme SHOULD have a cocoa product daily.
3. Indigenous Ghanaian companies should opt for Cocoa as the beverage served instead of others and I hope Ghana Cocoa Board and other companies in the cocoa business will take the lead in this area. The executive, judiciary and every relevant Ghanaian programmes should have cocoa and not tea breaks. Hospitals should also consider this as the beverage of choice.
4. Restaurants, Hotels etc should be encouraged to serve cocoa products. This is happening in many developed countries and we should not be left behind when the product is in our backyard.
5. The media should help to promote cocoa consumption aggressively – a minute a day for cocoa will make a whole world of difference.
6. A Cocoa Museum has also been proposed and I believe this is a wonderful idea. A place where we can get all the information on cocoa that one needs; from its history through to the meals it can be prepared with. A small prototype farm with sound bites of conversations on a typical cocoa farm playing. If this is done well it can become a major tourist attraction. Won’t visitors to Ghana want to see what cocoa is all about?
7. Those processing Cocoa products also need to be more innovative; new products, new packaging etc will go a long way to boost interest and hence consumption. I have spent quite a number of years on mother earth but I don’t remember any significant change to packaging of Golden Tree Chocolates.
I hope that the dialogue will continue, we will all start consuming cocoa products and encourage others to do the same and five years from now we can all comfortably say that “GHANA RUNS ON COCOA.”


Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel
Moms’ Health Club

*Dr Essel is a medical doctor and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy and fitness nutrition.

Thought for the week – “imagine your food as part of your body, and let that inform your choices. Do you want to be built of and powered by junk food?”
1. Cocoa and Your Health: The Tip of the Iceberg. Prof F. Kwaku Addai