Osun community’s chocolate story is bitter, yet sweet
Residents of Eti-Oni, in Atakumosa East LGA of Osun State are predominantly cocoa farmers, and since 1896 they have become specialists. Their traditional ruler, Oba Dokun Thompson proudly boasted that cocoa cultivation in Nigeria started from his community before it spread to other towns in the South West. But he told Daily Trust that he is not too happy that the gains are yet to manifest in the community, in terms of development and provision of social amenities, particularly access roads.
When Daily Trust visited the community, about three hours from state capital Osogbo, it was a bleak narrative. The road leading into the community from Iperindo, cut-off from the Ilesa-Akure expressway does not befit the birthplace of cocoa cultivation in Nigeria, and home to the country’s first cocoa plantation. As part of initiatives to elevate Eti-Oni, Oba Thompson devised various strategies aimed at attracting development. One, is production of Eti-Oni brand of chocolate.
Oba Thompson said the idea came about as a result of a call for a renaissance in the Nigerian cocoa industry, to move along the value chain of production, and to also achieve sustainability. “Also, our overall objective of building and transforming EtiOni into a sustainable model smart town,” he told Daily Trust. “The launch of EtiOni Chocolate was part of the highlights of the 2016 Cocoa Festival which saw the celebration of 120 years of continued production of cocoa in Eti-Oni, the oldest cocoa plantation in Nigeria,” he added.
The traditional ruler said Eti-Oni brand at the moment is produced for the European market, because Nigerians are not eating chocolate. “We’ve done a few trial runs and it has been successful in the European market. Even though we have been producing cocoa in Nigeria for over 120years, it is not yet embraced as part of our culture and chocolate is obviously not a product we fully understand. We are currently producing the Eti-Oni chocolate in Lincolnshire UK in partnership with Duffy’s Chocolate, a multi award-winning artisan premium chocolatier. Our chocolate should be available in June this year in the UK, and European markets because that is where you have a ready market and they understand chocolate and have created a culture out of it.”
The monarch said he was working on several strategies and projects that will eventually give Nigerian cocoa the definition it requires, and place it where it should be amongst cocoa-producing countries, and that once that is achieved, the farmers will develop self-dignity and that there would be increase in per capita income and provision of basic social amenities for the people.
Also, as part of the efforts to encourage local chocolatiers in the country and push demand for cocoa, Oba Thompson said “We have 3 or 4 local ones blazing the trail, and we are also promoting one of them, Kalabari Gecko Chocolate, in addition with our Eti-Oni Chocolate to give the necessary exposure and create brands that are globally accepted.”
The Oba explained that the Eti-Oni chocolate will be able to compete with other popular brands around the world. “For those who understand artisan premium chocolate, we stand tall and beside well-known and globally-accepted premium brands. What most Nigerians don’t understand is the difference between the healthy premium chocolate which has a lot of varying interesting character and value to it. The taste, notes, texture and so on depending on the region the cocoa was produced and very high content of pure cocoa. They are confused with the unhealthy chocolate candies which are full of sugar and several additives and alternatives with the minimum possible cocoa that can be easily found on supermarket shelves.”
With plans to introduce spices into their chocolate before the end of 2018, Oba Thompson also said at the moment, they are producing only dark chocolate, which is 70% cocoa. “We’ll eventually be doing some milk chocolate, but we will not be doing any with less than 45% cocoa because of the health benefits, which we require of our products. Our chocolate has a mix of floral, fruity notes, with a smooth finish and a delight when eaten,” he said. What a sweet thought, indeed.
Oba Dokun Thompson at the presentation of Etio-Oni Chocolate in Osun State. Inset, the chocolate bars.