Ghanaian student turning Cocoa Waste to Cosmetics

Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman

It is past midday in Asubia, a farming community in Western North Ghana.

As the sun scorches, Abubakar, 50, walks on the brown leaves between cocoa trees on his farms, inspecting the progress of his crops.

‘’I have been farming cocoa for more than 30 years, it is what I grew up in, and I do come to the farm every day to inspect the progress of my cocoa’’ he said, walking towards the dusty road on the left side of the farm.

Like Abubakar, about 850,000 farm families spread across Ghana are involved in cocoa farming and its related activities. The crop generates about $2 billion in foreign exchange annually and is a major contributor to the country’s economy.

Among the many challenges they face is disposing of the cocoa pod husk, a byproduct of cocoa processing. A cocoa pod husk is the outer layer of the cocoa bean.

Ghana’s cocoa industry generates 858,720 tons of cocoa pod husks and 180,000 tons of cocoa bean shells annually.

However, about 75% of the cacao is discarded after the beans are harvested. This results in 700,000 tons of organic waste each year, mostly left rotten on the farm.

‘’Every time I harvest, one of the problems I have is with the cocoa husk. I do not know where to dispose them off, and I cannot leave them on the farm. It is a challenge,’’ bemoans Abubakar.

Rotten Cocoa pod husk, on a farm in Western North Ghana. Image: Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman

While cocoa husk has potential uses on the farm, it can have negative impacts when not managed properly.

Cocoa husk is acidic and adding large amounts to the soil without proper balancing can increase soil acidity. This may negatively affect the growth of certain crops that prefer neutral or alkaline soil conditions.

Hanna Appiah, a young Ghanaian, is working towards recycling cocoa pod husk into cosmetics through her start-up, McHan Organics. For the past year, she has been transforming discarded cocoa husks into high-quality cosmetic ingredients for skincare and soaps.

McHan Organics is a sustainable cosmetics company based in Ghana, pioneering circular economy solutions by transforming discarded cocoa husks into high-quality cosmetic ingredients.

The innovation addresses the agro-waste crisis in cocoa farming communities while minimizing the environmental impact the waste could have caused.

Explaining her vision for McHan Organics, Hanna Appiah said, “We are a secular cosmetic startup that recycles cocoa pod husks into cosmetic products. We founded McHan to address the agricultural waste crisis affecting the agriculture sector, aiming to achieve the SDG goals, create decent jobs, empower women, and promote climate resilience.”

The company sources waste from farmers like Abubakar, with 70% women and 30% men as workers. This has helped Abubakar manage his waste and earn extra income.

‘’They have helped us. Because now, they buy the cocoa husk from us, which gives us extra money, this has helped us,’’ he said smiling.

Ms. Appiah, a fourth-year statistics student at the Kumasi-based Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, told Africa Change Stories that, though her start-up is recycling cocoa waste, it faces challenges.

‘’The challenge lies in acquiring enough funds to support the business. Additionally, dealing with the best people who understand your company’s mission can be a challenge. Apart from that, I’ll mention the need for better road networks to reach most of the places where we source our raw materials,’’ She added.

One of the products made from the recycled cocoa pod husk. Image: McHan Organics

During the early 19th century, cocoa beans were introduced to Ghana by Dutch missionaries. However, commercial cocoa cultivation in the country is credited to Tetteh Quarshie, a Ghanaian blacksmith from Osu in Accra.

After spending a few years living and working in Fernando Po, now known as Equatorial Guinea, he returned to Ghana in 1879 and established the first cocoa farm in Akwapim Mampong, located in the Eastern Region, using Amelonado Cocoa-pods. Following Tetteh Quarshie’s lead, commercial cocoa farming expanded to all forested areas of Ghana and has now become one of the most widely cultivated cash crops in the country.

Ghana is currently the second largest producer of cocoa, accounting for approximately 14% of global production. From 2018 to 2021, the country earned 9.66 billion dollars from Raw Cocoa Beans Exports alone. In 2021, a total of $2.8 billion was obtained from raw cocoa bean exports, in addition to about $1 billion from cocoa products, both domestic and exported.

According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) Ghana 2023 country report, cocoa’s contribution to the country’s GDP reduced from 3% in 2006 to 1.4% in 2019. Nonetheless, the sector is still a growth driver, with an expected 7% growth between 2019 to 2026 to US$16 billion. Cocoa contributes an average of 3.5 per cent of GDP and employs approximately 17 per cent of the working population, making it a significant contributor to the country’s economy.

A cocoa tree with unripe cocoas in Western North Ghana. Image: Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman.

The country loses around 5% of its cocoa production annually, primarily due to challenges associated with the storage, handling, and transportation of the cocoa, which negatively impacts the quality of the produce.

Globally, cocoa farmers produce approximately five million tonnes of cocoa beans per year, and the largest cocoa-growing countries are Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, accounting for almost 60% of the worldwide cocoa production.

Furthermore, over a third of the cocoa beans are processed in Europe. For now, Abubakar will continue to earn extra cash from his cocoa waste, as Hannah works towards recycling them, but the agro-waste problem in Ghana needs more hands to solve.

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