Margaret Owusu, Ghana: Bridging the gap between industry and research

Margaret Owusu

By Vibeke Quaade

She refrains from being called a pioneer and she asks to be portrayed as an ordinary Ghanaian woman. But the truth is that she is an exceptional achiever. She is driven by compassion to improve Ghana’s food security.

Margaret Owusu is a Senior Research Scientist and Head of the Food Microbiology and Mushroom Research Division at CSIR-Food Research Institute in Accra.

Partly sponsored by Danida, partly by Toms Group, Margaret Owusu was a PhD student at the Faculty of Life Science, of Copenhagen University from 2007 to 2010. The title of her thesis is Influence of raw material and processing on aroma in chocolate.

Together with a team of other cocoa and agriculture experts from Ghana and Denmark Margaret Owusu’s research led to the development of chocolate from improved fermenting techniques of the raw cocoa beans used for the Toms Ekstra.

​  Extra rich in taste with cocoa beans matured on wooden trays in Ghana's rainforest. Toms Extra was launched in 2010. Photo: Toms Group.  ​

Extra rich in taste with cocoa beans matured on wooden trays in Ghana's rainforest. Toms Extra was launched in 2010. Photo: Toms Group.

We did great work. We improved on the chocolate taste and we improved on the livelihood of the cocoa farmers, says Margaret Owusu.

10-tray fermentation technique 
Ghana is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa beans. Smallholders farmers grow 90 percent of the beans.

Traditionally, the farmers will extract the beans from the ripe pods and heap them on banana leaves to ferment.

With the technique that Margaret Owusu and the other experts developed, the farmers spread the beans to dry on wooden trays and stack ten trays on top of each other. This method gives a more even fermenting of the beans and a better taste of the chocolate.

In addition, it allows the farmers to dry more beans at the same time. It also speeds up the process. While the traditional heaping method takes 5-6 days, the 10-tray technique takes 2-3 days.

Ten tray methoed
To encourage the farmers to use the tray fermentation method, Toms Group initially gave the farmers the wooden trays for fermentation for free. The company also offers a higher price for the tray-fermented beans. Photo: Toms Group

For the farmers, the tray technique has been a definite plus. It has given them the opportunity to ferment and dry more raw beans in a shorter time and increased their income, Margaret Owusu says.

Scholarly pioneer of the family
Margaret Owusu can appreciate what a higher income means. Her own roots are in rural Ghana. She grew up in Tema, a port city about 25 kilometres from the capital Accra, in what she describes as a normal Ghanaian family.

My mother was a trader; my father was a normal worker in the oil industry. They were not at all rich, but worked hard to secure their children’s education, Margaret Owusu says.

Her educational journey started off in the local public school, but soon she was moved to an international private school.

From an early stage, I showed academic potential and my parents wanted me to excel, Margaret Owusu says.

She lived up to the expectations. With a first and secondary degree in Botany from the University of Ghana and a PhD in Food Science from the University of Copenhagen, Margaret is the only woman in her family with a PhD. But her heart is still with the rural population.

Value addition is key
Ghana’s cocoa production accounts for about eight percent of the country’s GDP. But according to Margaret Owusu it is far from enough. If processed cocoa products and not only raw beans were exported the percentage contribution of cocoa to GDP would increase dramatically.

Margaret Owesu
If we processed our own food and maybe even exported it we would not only increase income to the country. It would also mean a more secure livelihood for the farmers, says Margaret Owusu. Photo: Danida Fellowship Centre.

It concerns Margaret Owusu that Ghana is not involved in the value addition of its own crops. There is sadness in her voice when she explains how absurd it seems to import tinned tomato pure from abroad while heaps of fresh tomatoes rot at the markets due to inadequate post-harvest methods.  

If we processed our own food and maybe even exported it we would not only increase income to the country. It would also mean a more secure livelihood for the farmers, she says and continues.

The global food industry is enormous. The smallholder farmers deliver the raw materials to the industry. If it were not for them, there would not be an industry. But it is everyone else than the small farmers that gain from the global food industry, says Margaret Owusu.

She believes that the core of the problem is the lack of value addition and a food processing industry in Africa.

It is a huge problem that we do not have sophisticated post-harvest methods and are not engaged in extensive food processing. We export the raw materials and let others do the processing. We lose in terms of lost revenue and we lose because our farmers are kept in poverty, says Margaret Owusu.

Increase research towards local interests
A way forward towards improved food security is closer collaboration between the local food industry and the food research.

At the moment foreign donors and foreign companies sponsor a substantial proportion of Ghana’s food research. Inevitably a lot of the research is tilted towards foreign interest, which is not optimal for developing the local food industry.

We ought to bridge the gap between industry and research to improve our local food security. With Toms Group we made a move in the right direction. I wish we could collaborate closely with the local industry as well, Margaret Owusu says.

Vibeke Quaade is Senior Communications Advisor specialised in international development. Email:,

Despite being more than 10,000 kilometres apart, Professor Tine Gammeltoft and  Danida alum Dr Nguyen Thi Thuy Hanh’s lives and careers are deeply intertwined.

Danida alumni and former DTU student works to develop and improve the aquaculture industry back in Tanzania as well as in Denmark. In 2015, he graduated with the MSc Programme in Aquatic Science and Technology at DTU. Since then, he has been employed as a scientific assistant at DTU Aqua in 2017 and in 2020.
Nepal is one of the countries hardest hit by earthquakes. Nabin Joshi uses what he learnt in Denmark to build houses that remain standing when catastrophe strikes.
"I really believe in the power of innovation as a way of contributing to a positive and balanced evolution of the world" says Jaime Andrés Peña, Danida Alumni, sustainable development entrepreneur and team coordinator of the Danida Alumni Network Colombia.
Olman Segura-Bonilla, Danida alumni and former Cabinet Minister of Labor and Social Security of Costa Rica is a first mover and fierce believer in sustainable development economics. His impressive career and Costa Rica’s path of development are closely interlinked.
By applying a gendered lens and working within the multilateral forest governance framework of REDD+, Hao’s PhD explored the extent to which a local indigenous community in the Central Highlands had access to productive land such as wet rice fields, coffee land and forests.
It is a passion for science and a scientific approach to problem solving that has driven Moses Mukota throughout his academic and professional career. He completed his Danida Scholarship and the course ‘Water Sector Governance - the Danish Model’ in 2018.
Seth Aning started his financial career at Standard Chartered Bank in 2007. Four years later he left Accra to pursue an MBA at Copenhagen Business School - a decision that would not only accelerate Seth's career, but also alter his view of the corporate world and his role within it.

I believe that Africa’s fastest route to social and economic transformation is through entrepreneurship, says Patricia Jumi, Danida Alumni and Executive Director and founding partner of GrowthAfrica. Patricia Jumi holds an MBA from Copenhagen Business School, which she completed in 2007 after receiving a Danida Fellowship for one year.

When Hazem Hafez Ragab received an email that urged him to apply for a Danida Fellowship and a full-time MBA, he thought it was a hoax. But it was real, and the MBA made him realize that leadership starts with self-awareness.
Non-communicable diseases are rapidly spreading in Zanzibar as in the rest of the world. Danida alum Omar Mwalim uses his Danish connections to try to prevent a further escalation.
“We ought to mobilize homemade African science to inform long term, sustainable solutions to African problems”, says the internationally recognized scientist and Danida alumni, Cheikh Mbow. Two years ago, he became Executive Director of the Washington, D.C. based organisation START International.
The time I spent as Danida Fellow was so valuable. My first experience of universal health coverage was in Denmark, Dr Tedros Adhanom, WHO Director-General said in his acceptance speech for the Danida Alumni Prize 2017. The award ceremony was part of Danida Fellowship Centre's 25 years celebrations in Frederiksberg.
The recent war in Northern Uganda was all-encompassing destructive. To heal the wounds and move forward, Psychologist and Danida alumni Henry Oboke has created a small army of Village Helpers. They provide basic problem-solving therapy and help to self-help at household level.
The bi-annual Livia Peace Price 2016 was awarded to William Ongoro for acting bravely and wisely in the painful and violent conflicts of South Sudan.