The efforts of the Produce Monitoring Board to improve the cocoa sector in Sierra Leone have received global recognition during the International Cocoa Awards organized by the Cocoa of Excellence Programme.
On 30th October 2019 during an exclusive evening ceremony attended by over 500 cocoa and chocolate professionals, the winners of the 50 Best Cocoa were celebrated at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, France. This ceremony shines the international spotlight on the work of cocoa producing countries and the farmers they support and work with, and the diversity of cocoa around the world.
Every two years, the Cocoa of Excellence Programme spearheaded by Bioversity International (now the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT) and Salon du Chocolat recognize quality, flavour and diversity of cocoa from different cocoa producing countries from every continent of the world. Cocoa diversity is vital for production, as it provides the different flavours, resistance to pests and diseases, and resilience in climate change. Providing incentives for safeguarding cocoa diversity to national organizations like PMB ensures a portfolio of options for the development of the cocoa sector remain available for the future.
“The most remarkable evolution of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme is the enthusiasm of the cocoa producing countries to participate in greater numbers every edition. We started this great adventure in 2009 with 20 countries and today we have 55 countries and hope that at the next Edition in 2021 we will reach 70. We are entering a new era for cacao that makes us discover all the potential and the pleasures that its genetic diversity, its environment, its culture, and the know-how of all these countries that grow cocoa and upon which their prosperity depends”. Brigitte Laliberté, Cocoa of Excellence Programme Coordinator, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
The Cocoa of Excellence Programme is the entry point for cocoa-producing countries to participate in the International Cocoa Awards (ICA), a global competition recognizing the work of cocoa producing countries and celebrating the diversity of cocoa flavours. This is a unique opportunity to promote high-quality cocoa and diversity at national level and celebrate the skills and know-how of national cocoa organisations like the PMB who support the production and quality assurance of cocoa.
For the 2019 Edition, the Cocoa of Excellence Programme received 223 samples of cocoa beans, originating from 55 cocoa producing countries in the world, including Sierra Leone. After a detailed physical quality evaluation, the beans were carefully processed into liquor for blind sensory evaluation by the Cocoa of Excellence Programme Global Technical Committee, a panel of international cocoa and chocolate experts. Following
this evaluation and a robust data analysis, the best 50 samples were selected and processed into chocolate (following the same recipe of 66% cocoa) for sensory evaluation. This evaluation included 35 experts from a broad range of professions from chocolatiers to chocolate sensory evaluation experts to cocoa researchers from 12 countries drawn from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The Produce Monitoring Board (PMB) sent in 6 samples in June 2019 to participate in the competition. After almost 5 months of rigorous evaluation of all the 223 samples, the Global Technical Committee selected the 50 Best Samples for global recognition. The Produce Monitoring Board is happy that one of the samples it sent for the competition from Kono was selected as one of the best 50 cocoa in the world. This sample was sourced from a cocoa farm in Bonbordu community in Kono and the farm is owned by Sahr Bangura. Among other cocoa quality parameters/criteria, the Global Technical Committee used the following quality parameters to select the best 50 cocoa samples in the world.
- Have good, intrinsic flavour attributes
- Free from off-flavours, particularly smoke, mould, excessive acidity, excessive bitterness and astringency
- Be grown, harvested, fermented, dried and stored using recommended practices so as to ensure levels of contaminants are as low as reasonably achievable and comply with food safety legislations – Allergens, Bacteria, Dioxins and PCBs, Foreign Matter, Heavy Metals, and Infestation
- Be well fermented and thoroughly dried, with a moisture content of approximately 7%, with an absolute maximum of 8%.
“The 2019 Edition of Cocoa of Excellence submissions were of exceptional quality collected from diverse regions of the world, making it challenging for the Technical Committee to select the best samples. The general public may view the percentage label of cocoa on a chocolate bar as a representation of its quality, however we understand the hard work and attention given by the farmers in growing quality beans. The perfect expression of aromas and tastes flows out of the cocoa samples, and it’s been a true honour to experience and evaluate the artistry and diversity of these beans.” Professor Edward Seguine, Chair of the Global Technical Committee, and co-founder of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme.
“In Sierra Leone, commercial cocoa production dates back to the late 1940s when the colonial government introduced cocoa in Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and also established plantations in Sierra Leone. Over the past decade, however, the cocoa sector in Sierra Leone has not received the needed attention until now. We participated in this competition to give further recognition and validation to the high-quality cocoa that we produce in Sierra Leone, and also to encourage our young people to become cocoa farmers and cocoa entrepreneurs. We are indeed thrilled by the news of being selected among the best 50 in the world. It means a lot to us as PMB, to the Government of Sierra Leone and of course to our cocoa farmers and cocoa producing communities. This global recognition shows the
world the excellence, flavour and aroma of our cocoa. As PMB, we will continue to work very hard and smart with other MDAs, development partners, and our farmers and cooperatives to improve the cocoa sector in Sierra Leone. This global recognition serves as a strong motivation for us to even do more to sustain and improve on this level of success”. We thank our farmers and all partners working so hard with us to positively rewrite the history of cocoa in Sierra Leone. Dr. James Vibbi, Executive Chairman, Produce Monitoring Board.
The Cocoa of Excellence Programme is celebrating its 10th year anniversary. Over this past decade, the Cocoa of Excellence Programme continues to increase awareness and promote education along the cocoa supply chain about the opportunity to produce high quality cocoa and the need to preserve flavours resulting from genetic diversity, the know-how of the producing countries and their farmers who produce cocoa. This unique international programme celebrates and values cocoa beans and the tremendous work of the cocoa national organisations like the Produce Monitoring Board, the Ghana Cocoa Board and the Cocoa-Coffee Board of Cote d’Ivoire.
“We believe strongly in the vision of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme and we are proud to be part of this prestigious international competition solely dedicated to cocoa. With funding from the Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project (SCADeP) – a World Bank funded project – PMB was able to travel to Paris to attend and receive this global recognition on 30th October 2019. We are happy that our work and efforts as an agency and as a country have received such global recognition. For us, we see the International Cocoa Awards as the “Cocoa Olympics”, and that is why we are so committed to it – and this has paid off”. Didan Sankoh, Director, Produce Monitoring Board.
The only countries in Africa whose cocoa beans were selected among the best 50 in the world are Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and Cameroon. Other cocoa-producing countries in Africa like Nigeria, Togo, Guinea and Liberia did not make it to the best 50 in the world.