Cocoa bean : Madagascar has the finest quality
Madagascar has the most famous flavoured cocoa bean in the world although it accounts for only a very small share of world production. It is from the valley of the Sambirano, near Ambanja, that most of this production comes
The cocoa tree is a tropical tree that can measure up to 15 meters depending on the regions of the world where it is grown. In cocoa plantations, fruits are harvested, called “pods” (when they have reached their final size) on trees cut from four to six meters. The main cocoa varieties grown are Forastero (80 to 90% of world production), Trinitario (10 to 20% of world production) and Criollo (1 to 5% of world production). The latter two varieties are cultivated in South America, while forasteros are mainly found in West Africa. In Latin America, cocoa is grown on large plantations. In Africa, on the other hand, there are more than two million small family farms. It is estimated that in Africa, nearly 16 million people depend on cocoa cultivation. According to statistics, 95% of the world’s cocoa production comes from family farming with one to three hectares of cocoa plantations.
The world market of cocoa bean : low demands high production
The world market is worth $ 3 billion a year with a very variable cocoa bean price.
Cocoa price knows its ups and downs over the years. It has risen to $ 3,000 / ton in the 1970s but has since then fallen to between $ 1,000 and $ 2,000 per ton. Currently $ 2,275 / ton. After a peak in 1977, cocoa prices fell to collapse during the 1990s. This is due to a world production high compared to recurrent consumption and to the accumulation of surpluses from previous years.
Madagascar market : Low production each year.
Cocoa farming in Madagascar represents a production of 6,000 tons per year. The DIANA and SAVA regions, north of the Grande Île, are the strongholds of this production, mainly around Ambanja and in the Sambirano valley.
Drying of cocoa beans Drying of cocoa beans
The peculiarity of Madagascar, almost unique in the world, is to welcome the three cultivated varieties of cacao, including the variety “Criollo”, highly sought after for its pronounced aroma and low bitterness.
The first cocoa trees were introduced in Madagascar around the 1900s. The first variety of cocoa marketed was the Criollo. During this period, Madagascar exported more than 120 tons of cocoa per year and the vast majority of this production came from the colonial plantations of the country.
Following the recent efforts of the profession in the field of quality, Malagasy cocoa, considered to be among the best in the world, was awarded the Cocoa Fine label by the International Cocoa Organization, ICCO.
But a limit to this quality stems from the phenomenon of hybridization between species, whose mixed distribution does not allow control.
A plantation in Ambanja: the SOMIA
The Malagasy Society of Industry and Agriculture (SOMIA) owns about 2,000 ha of land in Ambanja, half of which is cultivated. Production of cocoa beans for export (including the Criollo variety) averaged 260 T per year over the 8 fiscal years (about 330 T in 2011). Cocoa production is certified BIO.
In addition to cocoa crops, the company also has ylang-ylang (about 10,000 feet) and to a lesser extent coffee, pepper and pink berries.
A distillery will be rehabilitated for ylang-ylang and vetiver also present. Renovation work on the facilities and buildings in Ambanja took place in 2007
According to Yvan Staub, the manager of the plantation since 2007, one of the great difficulties of cocoa cultivation stems from the vagaries of the climate: cyclones, frequent in this region, contribute to deteriorating the tree cover, which is necessary to shade good cocoa growth; the precipitation sometimes too low, which has a serious impact on the volume of production.
The aging of the plants, some of which date back to the colonial era, also requires a major restructuring work on the plantation (restoration of shade, renewal of seedlings, etc.).
But another difficulty, and not the least, comes from the disappearance of production on the plants following night looting that occurs at times when demand is high. An important monitoring device must therefore be permanently maintained.
This company employs 90 permanent staff and between 250 and 700 during harvest periods.
Structuring and regulation
The cocoa sector, however, has a number of weaknesses that are the subject of reflection on the part of the various actors who have been working for a number of years on the establishment of a regulatory framework, including: the introduction of producer cards and collectors (withdrawals / rebates), setting up of physical markets, setting up a quality control of the beans, etc.
From the implementation of these measures depends the sustainability of the reputation of excellence of the cocoa of Madagascar.
The stages of cocoa cultivation
The cocoa bean is the product obtained after fermentation and drying of the fresh seed.
The cocoa tree must have reached the age of six to have a profitable first crop. Pods are harvested twice a year. The fruit of the cocoa can contain up to 50 cocoa beans. The ripe fruits never fall of their own accord. If they are not picked, they rot on the trunk.
Open canopy showing the mucilage Open bug showing mucilage
When they have reached maturity, the pods are detached from the tree by cutting the peduncle with a sharp knife so as not to hurt the cocoa bean. A pod picked too soon will produce a cocoa of lesser quality; a pod picked too ripe will be less resistant to diseases and unsuitable for the production of commercial cocoa.
The pods are stacked and opened with a machete before removing the white pulp (mucilage) in which the beans are wrapped. The pods thus emptied are used to feed livestock or as compost.
On contact with air, the cream-colored beans immediately take on a purplish tint. The fermentation process can now begin.
Ecabossage Fermentation tanks
Dried fermented bean ready to be processed Dried fermented bean ready to be processed
The beans are stored in large wooden boxes and stirred regularly to obtain a homogeneous fermentation.
The purpose of the fermentation is as follows: during this process, the pulp ferments and announces the appearance of the typical flavors and aromas of chocolate. The yeasts and bacteria that will be born in this environment will act on the beans and transform the sugar contained in the pulp surrounding the cocoa bean into carbon dioxide and alcohol and finally acetic acid. During this process, the cocoa seeds disappear and their germinative power vanishes. At the same time, the original bitter and astringent flavor softens and modifies the color of the bean, which abandons its purplish tinge to a brownish color.
Fermentation takes about 6 days.
Drying of cocoa beans Drying of cocoa beans
This process consists in stopping the fermentation. The beans are stored, to dry, either on hurdles or on concrete slabs in the sun. They can also be dried industrially, that is to say by putting them in hot air, in the dryers, this then takes only 15 to 36 hours. When the beans are dry, they are said to “crisp”.
5. Storage – shipment
After drying, the beans are stored in jute bags of 60 to 70 kilos. These bags are stamped and numbered. A series of samples are taken to assess the quality of the beans. Then, the cocoa beans are ready to be traded on the international market.