Theobroma cacao, simply called cocoa has been described as the "food of the gods" because there is growing evidence of the immense health benefits humans derive in its consumption and the pivotal role it plays in the creation of wealth and the rural transformation process.
It is one of the major crops identified to enhance health and create wealth towards alleviating poverty to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Cocoa, the real golden pod, is a major source of revenue for the economies and accounted for financing several economic and social development activities such as the provision of infrastructure, education, health and entertainment facilities as well as employing millions of people directly or indirectly in all the 10 Cocoa Producers' Alliance (COPAL) member countries.
Cocoa has been the mainstay especially of the Ghanaian economy for many years, contributing about six per cent to the Gross Domestic Products GDP); providing livelihoods to thousands of households and this would continue for many years to come, the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in the country, notwithstanding.
Various scientific researches have established that the consumption of cocoa products equips the human body to fight cancer; stroke; heart attack; hypertension; aging and dysfunctional erection because it is a storehouse of antioxidants.
The consumption and use of products of the golden pod could prevent or cure the current upsurge in non-communicable diseases in the country.
It is, therefore, prudent to take advantage of research findings that are coming out and resort to the consumption of cocoa products, perhaps like what we do with fufu, banku, ampesi, to derive medicinal benefits and save hard-earned money, which is otherwise spent on the treatment of diseases.
According to Mr Kwame Agyente-Badu, Acting Head of the New Products Development Unit of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), cocoa products such as cocoa powder should be consumed naturally without addictives like sugar and milk for quick effect.
He said these addictives interfered with the flow of antioxidants, substances that prevent damage to the body cells, emphasizing that regular intake of natural cocoa drink helps to reduce asthmatic attacks and persistent cough.
Mr Agyente-Badu stated: "Cocoa is a natural source of dietary magnesium, which research has shown to be effective in treating epilepsy, menstrual pains, diabetes and migraine.
" He said research has revealed that cocoa has about 300 elements and with the highest levels of antioxidants.
A study by Italian researchers at the University of L'Aquila corroborated this finding that dark chocolate could help to lower blood pressure.
This study also found that dark chocolate helped to boost the body's ability to metabolize sugar from food, a finding that could have implications for the treatment of diabetes.
Other studies recorded in the Journal of the American Medical Association have found that dark chocolate can improve cardiovascular health; as well as thin the blood, in much the same way that aspirin does, thus cutting the risk of clots.
COPAL member countries, which include Ghana; Nigeria; Gabon; Cote D'Ivoire; Brazil and Malaysia account for approximately 75 per cent of total world cocoa production but with a domestic consumption of only 5.
7 per cent in 2007/08, having increased by 31.
6 per cent from the previous year.
The average per capita consumption for the world is estimated to be 0.
614 kilograms with Brazil and Malaysia having per capita consumption rates above the world average.
Africa, which accounts for 70 per cent of total cocoa production, consumes a mere 3.
0 per cent of apparent domestic consumption with per capita consumption of the Continent falling below the world average.
The estimated consumption per capita in Ghana is 0.
548 kg per head and efforts are underway to increase it to one kilogram per head in the medium term.
Resulting from the above, a Council of Ministers of COPAL, in 2003 recommended that all member countries initiate a sustained activity towards the consumption of cocoa products with a National Promotion Committee.
In Ghana, President John Evans Attah Mills has directed that cocoa drink should be promoted and served at public functions.
The possibility of incorporating cocoa consumption into the school feeding programme should also be explored, he said.
Mr Anthony Fofie, Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), described cocoa as having high food value of protein, carbohydrates and fat and is mildly stimulating due to the presence of theobromine, an alkaloid that is closely related to caffeine.
He said during value addition process, fat is separated and small percentage of various substances may be added, such as starch to prevent caking or potassium bicarbonate to neutralize the natural acids and astringents to make cocoa easy to dissolve in liquids.
The beauty of the golden pod has lived up to its billing, as its by-products have been utilized judiciously.
Products from the cocoa husks are transformed into animal feed and potash and potash fertilizer.
Cocoa pulp juice comes in as fresh drink.
The beans could be processed into jams/jelly; pastries; wine; vinegar; gin/brandy; moisturizing creams and soap.
Heads of African countries has no other alternative than to mainstream the consumption of cocoa products for health and wealth.
Rarely, in the limelight, cocoa needs a little help to step out of the shadows and become the actual golden pod, consistently through science, technology and research.
Cocoa has its origins in the lower Amazon, Brazil and was brought to Ghana from Fernando Po by Tetteh Quashie in 1879.
By Maxwell Awumah.