Does Colombian cacao have a semisweet future?


Consider yourself a chocolate lover? Well, you are among friends – many friends in fact – a group growing in number every day. Fueled by the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, the worldwide demand for chocolate is increasing by 2.5% a year. This may seem like a small number, but it presents a dire problem for chocolate manufacturers as they struggle to source sufficient quantities of chocolate?s raw material: cacao.

Cacao pods

Colombian cacao stands to become one of the country’s newest major exports, particularly if artisanal beans continue gaining international renown.

This problem for chocolate manufacturers is a great opportunity for cacao producing countries, including Colombia. To capitalise on the world?s growing desire for chocolate, the Colombian Government released an ambitious ten-year plan to transform Colombia from a cacao importer to a major cacao exporter. According to the ‘Plan Decenal,’ Colombia will increase production of cacao from the 42,00 tonnes produced in 2010 to 246,000 tonnes by 2021.

Planning a sweeter future

Fedecacao, the national association of cacao growers, will be instrumental in achieving this plan. By providing technical assistance to farmers, they aim to triple the current yield of existing plantations, and will expand cacao production into new regions, including many areas formerly used for coca production.

Edgar Aldana Rosillo of Fedecacao says the Plan Decenal will not only help farmers, but entire rural communities by providing permanent jobs and liveable incomes for families, thus reducing the displacement of rural populations. Fedecacao estimate that the Plan Decenal will create 76,500 jobs directly involved in cacao cultivation and 38,250 additional jobs in the broader industry.

However, the success of Plan Decenal relies on consistently high prices for cacao and this is not something anyone can guarantee, especially not for a crop that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development described as one of the most volatile commodities in the world.

Risky investment?

Producers of “bulk” or low-quality cacao have no choice but to sell on the commodities market, however producers of high-quality beans can sell them directly to quality chocolate manufacturers, who pay a premium up to three times the market price. Amounting to less than 10% of global cacao production, these “Fine Aroma” beans are highly sought after by the growing number of artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate producers.

According to international chocolate consultant Chloe Doutre-Roussel, these artisanal producers prize beans from Venezuela, Madagascar, Peru, and Mexico. However, they know little about the quality of Colombian cacao. To tackle this problem, Fedecacao is busy promoting quality Colombian beans to international buyers.

In October 2011, through the support of Fedecacao, farmer Saúl Tirado Fuentes won a Cocoa of Excellence award at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, for cacao grown on his Valparaiso plantation in Arauquita, Arauca. The judges noted that the beans, from a tree developed by the research department of Fedecacao, exhibited distinct sweet caramel aromas.

At the farm level, Fedecacao agronomists are advising farmers on cultivation, fermentation and drying techniques to maximise the unique characteristics of their land and their trees. With this assistance at the plantation level, and the right exposure internationally, Colombian farmers may join their neighbours as some of the best paid-cacao growers globally, whilst ensuring the world’s chocolate lovers a future for their favourite treat.


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