A hand full of hope: the smith and the five cocoa beans.

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The victory of cocoa in Africa started with Tetteh Quarshie. Legend has it that he secretly brought the cocoa to Ghana and, by doing so, laid the foundation for one of the most important Ghanaian and African export products. Nevertheless, the history of cocoa cultivation in Ghana goes deeper than the legend would lead one to assume.

 

We are going back to the year 1876. Tetteh Quarshie is 34 years old at that time. It is incredibly hot in Bioko, an island off the West African coast, in the Gulf of Guinea. The air shimmers as the hot wind is blowing. Tetteh gets on a ship that should bring him to his Ghanaian homeland. Beads of sweat appear on his forehead, but it is not the heat that causes them. He puts his hand in his pocket and feels for the reason for his nervousness: five coca beans that he stole from a nearby cocoa plantation. It is strictly forbidden to export cocoa seeds or plants, because the Spanish colony Bioko, whose name was Fernando Pó at this time, quickly realized how valuable cocoa as a resource was and how much the rest of the world pays for this indulgence.

 

This also realized Tetteh quite quickly and the smith came up with a plan: he would bring the cocoa and the wealth that comes with it back to his home. He, then, goes onto the tossing and turning boat which seems eager to finally sail into the wild ocean waves and the increasing wind. Finally, the anchor is being hoisted and Tetteh breathes a sigh of relief. He did not get caught.

The rest is history: Tetteh reaches his home, plants the continent’s first cocoa plants in Mampong, Ghana – and breaks up the Spanish/Portuguese cocoa monopoly.

 

Obviously, it is impossible to really find out if things occurred the way they were described and if it were three, five of twenty cocoa beans. Other people claimed to be the ones that brought cocoa to Africa, too, such as Sir William Brandford Griffith, Governor of Ghana, formerly know as the Golden Coast, between 1880 and 1885. However, one thing is certain: Tetteh Quarshie is the one person, that is being celebrated as a national hero and subject to countless myths and stories in Ghana. He supposedly traveled around Ghana to give cocoa plants and seeds to farmers like a benefactor. Up until today his cocoa farm in Mampong, from where the cocoa farming’s victory spread throughout the continent, can be visited. No other African country exported as much cocoa as Ghana. Between 1910 and 1980, Ghana was the unchallenged largest cocoa exporter in the world. The country only lost this status to the Ivory Coast because of large bush fires in the late 80s, that destroyed major parts of the cocoa plants.

 

Cocoa workers in Ghana, 1925.

 

Especially Ghana’s geographical location favored its rise to a global center of cocoa: Through the west coast, the European west and North America had a good naval connection to the African continent. Also, the cocoa production in Ghana profited from a massive slave revolt in the beginning of the 20s century in the Portuguese colonies. The slaves stood up for better working conditions in Portuguese and Spanish cocoa plantations because the death rate in those plantations was as high as 20%. Great Britain and America, the largest cocoa buyer at the time, bypassed the revolt by buying cocoa directly from the former gold coast. Ghana also offered better working conditions to people working in the cocoa business and the cocoa beans there had the reputation of having a better quality than cocoa from the original cocoa-colonies.

Today, more than 100 years later, sadly many children and adults still work under poor or moderate working conditions in cocoa plantations and the market turned into a complex machinery. Nevertheless, much has changed in the business. As we already reported, especially in Ghana the number of ecological cocoa plantations is rising – also thanks to our and your support. Not only the conditions for the people, but also for the environment are steadily improving. Tetteh Quarshie would have liked this, as this was his intention 150 years ago, when he got on a boat that brought him to the African mainland, in his pocket nothing but some cocoa beans – a hand full of hope.