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With cocoa output in Colombia rising, farmers look for signs of economic progress as well as recognition

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Approximately  95% of Colombia’s cacao exports are classed as ‘Fine Flavour’ by the International Cacao Organisation. Pic: FEDECACAO
Approximately 95% of Colombia’s cacao exports are classed as ‘Fine Flavour’ by the International Cacao Organisation. Pic: FEDECACAO

Related tags Cocoa Cocoa bean Colombia Luker Chocolate Cordillera Chocolate

Cocoa production in Colombia has increased by over 60% in the past 12 years and according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), in 2020, Colombia ranked 10th in the world in terms of annual cocoa production.

According to a study by USAID, recent efforts to promote the sector have focused on expanding cacao production, post-harvest management to a lesser extent, the establishment of producer organizations, and the exploration of niche markets. ‘Despite these interventions, the sector still underperforms its potential.’

Latest figures suggest that in 2021, Colombia produced 65,174 MT of cocoa with a planted area of 194,428 hectares with two Colombia-based multinational companies - Compañía Nacional de Chocolates (owned by the Nutresa Group) and Casa Luker - buying over 80% of Colombian cacao bean production.

The production of cocoa in Colombia is developed by 52,000 families of small and medium-sized producers, and Nutersa (the owner of B4B brand Cordillera Chocolates) sources from almost half of them with households directly benefiting from the group’s social and sustainability programmes. It claims that 44% of all cacao beans used in its production are delivered directly to the company by farmer’s cooperatives.

Swisscontact ​(a Swiss non-profit organisation that carries out projects aiming at reducing poverty in developing and transition countries by private sector development) has been working with Colombian cocoa organisations to optimise quality and value creation and promote equality since 2020.

The ‘Colombian Specialty Cocoa for the Swiss Sustainable Market (Cacao+Sostenible)’ project fosters innovation and services in order to establish long-term commercial relationships between producers and consumers. Women’s participation in decision-making within the producer organisations’ production and administration processes is also promoted as part of the project, as is the use of tried-and-tested environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

Younger generation

The report by usaid.org​ said that because cacao farmers in Colombia are working until well into their 60s, when they retire their children will be 30-40+ years old (if a parent works until 80 years old their child could easily be 60). ‘Youth have no hope to inherit the land during their peak years, so they leave the farm in order to make a living, meaning that the farming lifestyle is skipping a generation’. In its analysis the report stated that ‘the younger generation interviewed expressed frustration with respect to purchasing their own land as not a viable option in most of the departments that produce cacao in the country’.

In 2022, GoodSam Foods, a US healthy snack food brand with a commitment to sustainability and regenerative agriculture, partnered with Luker Chocolate in a programme aimed at bringing together Colombian youth and providing them with educational resources while teaching them how to use social media for good.

Heather Terry, CEO & Founder, GoodSAM told ConfectioneryNews: "There have been great strides in bringing Colombian cocoa to the US market, especially for brands like GoodSAM.  With that said, there are still many challenges especially when it comes to commoditized crops, like cocoa, with regard to the health, wellbeing and success of the communities that plant the seed in the ground and cultivate the crop. Chocolate and confectionery businesses need to come up with more creative solutions to protect the supply networks they work with. This is our greatest challenge as an industry."

Women cocoa farmers

In Colombia, women in rural areas often have to bear high workloads while simultaneously being financially dependent on their husbands. Swisscontact said it has been working with Colombian cocoa organisations since 2020 to promote equality in the cocoa value chain. With a long-lasting armed conflict between the government and FARC rebels ending with a peace agreement in 2016, economic, political and social advancement is beginning to filter down to the thousands of families in rural areas, striving for economic progress.

Both Nutresa and Casa Luker supply the domestic market and export cacao beans, intermediary cacao products such as powder, paste, semi-elaborated products such couverture and semi-sweet chocolate, and finished consumer products.

The majority of the production of both companies is for the domestic market, mainly for chocolate de mesa or bars for hot chocolate. Nutresa has played an active role in increasing cacao production for over 50 years. Currently as part of its ‘social commitment’, Nutresa has a Productive Projects-Inclusive Business programme. Through the Productive Alliance Support Project (PAAP), Nutresa forms alliances with farmers to assure the purchase of their product directly and will help provide technical, social and corporate support. Nutresa has two demonstration farms, a larger one in Magdalena Medio and a small farm near Medellin (which ConfectioneryNews visited in 2022). In total, these farms provide training to several hundred cacao producers and technicians on an annual basis.

In a statement on its website to mark National Cocoa Farmers Day, Cordillera Chocolates said it is ‘indebted to the growers for their remarkable efforts and unwavering commitment in nurturing cocoa beans to produce the highest-quality ingredients that make our delicious chocolates, pastries, and sweets so inviting’.

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