A major cocoa processing breakthrough in Ivory Coast is set to be delivered through Bühler’s creation of its Agroindustrial and training facility (C.F.I.A.) in Abidjan.
The site, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Africa, has been developed as a key industry hub supporting one of the region’s most significant export commodities. Speaking to Confectionery Production about its development, Désiré N’zi, project director, explains that a core driver for its creation has been to tackle a production imbalance for the sector.
Consequently, as he noted, Ivory Coast and neighboring Ghana presently account for around 70% of cocoa production, yet only 25% is actually processed in the country. As has been previously reported, the Ivory Coast government, which is backing the new site, has aspirations to double this figure to 50% in terms of local production levels.
With the new facilities which have been developed over the past two years, Bühler is set to offer manufacturers, students and sector researcher’s facilities to optimize their processes, develop new semi-finished product recipes such as cocoa liquor, powder, and butter. They will be able to train the current and future cocoa processing workforce on state-of-the-art technology.
“Within the cocoa industry, there’s always been an issue of how do we keep more value in the origin countries. It’s a question that is on everyone’s mind, and there are different ways that people can contribute towards that.
“For Bühler, as a technology provider, and with very good experience in this field with the success of the African milling school in Kenya, we felt this was a model that could be adapted for the cocoa industry,” explained the project director, who said the site’s creation addresses several of the company’s key strategic sustainable development goals including providing quality education, delivering economic growth and forging new partnerships.
He revealed its original inspiration stemmed from discussions emerging from the last Interpack in 2017 that identified a clear need for such a site within the region. Describing the new facility, he said it has proved greatly rewarding to play a part in bringing the facility to fruition in adapting what was a former IT centre for its own unique industry testing purposes.
The site includes two core production halls, which N’zi revealed will initially focus on primary cocoa processing stages in terms of its pilot-testing, which is hoped to be extended within two years to include chocolate testing equipment to enable finished product development. Its full range of equipment includes a winnower, grinders, pre-refiners and a lab press, that will offer valuable practical experience for those using the site, which also has classroom facilities.
“When we first started to talk about the initiative, it was received with a lot of enthusiasm from all stakeholders, including young students from the “Institute National Polytechnique – Houphouët Boigny” de Yamoussoukro, that we are now hoping to form a partnership with.
“They all seemed super excited that we are here, as cocoa is an important crop in the regional agricultural value chain. The government and customers were also very enthusiastic, so it has just been a question of making it a reality,” he said of the site that was due to open in March, and has been postponed to the fourth quarter of 2020 due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The facility’s first students are now expected to take up initial courses at the centre once health and safety conditions allow for this to be possible.
According to N’zi, the company’s target is that more than 100 students a year will benefit from its technical training, with capacity for further development as the centre grows. It is hoped that those engaging with its courses will prove an inspiration in becoming the next generation of cocoa specialists, technicians and engineers based within the region.
As Confectionery Production has recently highlighted, major global manufacturers such as Mars are seeking to develop chocolate confectionery that has greater resistance to heat levels found in countries such as Ivory Coast and Ghana, which could prove a driver for regional demand. With local manufacturers increasingly showing signs of developing a market for the industry amid a growing middle-class society, these factors may also influence the pace of developments within its new cocoa competence centre.
N’zi added: “This is not only a training centre, but a service platform and application facility as well, meaning that with the equipment at our disposal we can support grinders, and prospective grinders to run tests and recipes with small batches, as well as looking at process optimization.
“I think it will make a big difference to the region. It’s about confidence that entrepreneurs have to make things happen, so having a global company such as Bühler there to help you actually gives people that confidence to explore the sector,” enthused the director, who felt one of its key challenges will be communicating the range of potential services that its site offers.
He revealed one of the centre’s major aims is to ensure smaller enterprises gain access to its facilities, which he said may eventually broaden out in terms of offering additional technical expertise for roasting possibilities within the coffee sector for the region. Optimistic of its success, he felt it has been an exciting challenge so far, with plenty of potential ahead to make the most of the nation’s cocoa assets.
“I would like to make it one of the major building blocks in strengthening the cocoa industry in the region, not only in the training, but with its innovation capabilities and the service platform that we are offering, as we have experts in our centre that can support the industry growth. One of the next steps will be to become accredited by the ministry of technical and professional education.