One Chocolate Bar at a Time: Gambian Businessman’s Quiet Cocoa Revolution
When Gambian businessman Fady Hocheimy received a cocoa plant as a present from his Ghanaian employee a decade ago, he didn’t think much of it. To him, it was just any other present. He planted the tree in his backyard. For many years it would bear fruit all year round, and for many years the fruits would ripe and drop off the tree and go to waste. He didn’t just care. The only time he paid attention to the tree was when he opened one of the fruits to see what was inside, just out of curiosity.
“When I opened it I saw all these little black seeds covered with white stuff. It tasted a bit sweet but there’s nothing really to it because you cannot just suck on the white stuff and then spit the seed out,” he says.
In 2018, Fady flew with an Ethiopian Airlines flight and what he saw on the plane would become a blessing for his poor cocoa tree.
“I saw how proud the Ethiopians were of their coffee,” he says, displaying cell phone images of the tree. “So when I got back to The Gambia I said well I love coffee, so let me try to grow cocoa.”
But Fady realised he already had a cocoa tree in his backyard. A few weeks earlier, he almost cut it down because he felt there was no point keeping it.
“I was about to cut it down unless I had something to do with it. It kept growing because it’s surrounded by grass and I always water the grass. Cocoa plant needs a lot of water. But then the idea of researching chocolate making at home came.”
Though Fady loved coffee, he was more intrigued by exploring the idea of making chocolate from his tree, and for the next many months he took to the internet to religiously research about the process of making chocolate using basic utensils.
“The process was not very difficult at all. I just had to follow the steps and eventually made chocolate from the cocoa plant.”
The more he experimented, the more passionate he became about making chocolate. In the love month of February 2018 when love birds were all out to show love and affection to their partners, Fady saw a great opportunity to surprise his wife with basic home-made chocolate as Valentine’s present.
Fady explains his chocolate-making process
“I came up with a chocolate. It wasn’t that good but she was sweet enough to say it was (giggles). When I tried it, there was that fermented taste in it. It was very bitter. It was chocolate but it wasn’t that good.”
Fady and his wife laughed about the bad chocolate, but that didn’t put him off. The more he tried harder, he better his chocolate tasted. Eventually, after one-and-a-half year experiment and research, he produced chocolate bar that won the hearts of some big names in the country, including business people and diplomats. “I’ve had a lot of famous and important people that have tasted this, endorsed it and shared it on their social media pages. I’ve finally come to a product that is edible and likeable.”
Inspired by endorsements from those who tasted his chocolate bar, Fady invested in modern coffee-making equipment and accessories to make more and better chocolate. While he rules out any immediate chocolate business venture, he’s always happy to make chocolate bars and share them with friends and loved ones not just for fun, but also to inspire them into considering cocoa farming and chocolate making.
“People have been asking; why are you doing this? What’s the point of all these? Why are you sharing your secrets with everybody?’ You know… that selfishness. First of all, this is no secret. This information is available all over the world on the internet. Anyone can do it. It’s just that people didn’t know that we can actually grow cocoa in The Gambia.”
To popularize the rise of cocoa growing in the country, Fady has taken it upon himself to give out the seedlings to friends and others to grow. “I hope people will start growing it here. No one knows where it will end, but I hope it ends up with Gambia exporting cocoa. Why are we still importing bananas and cucumbers and tomatoes when I can grow cocoa and make chocolate in Gambia, from Gambian soil and Gambian water?”
“By doing this, I’m just showing to the people that we have to think outside the box. Let’s stop doing just what we’ve been told. Let’s be proactive. Let’s be creative.”
For broader outreach, Fady has set up a Facebook page: FH Bites #GambianChocolate to share his adventure and chocolate stories, and discuss chocolate matters with his fans and followers.