Until now farming
in the tropical region has been well-known as “slash and burn” – burning down
agro-forestry economy where the soil resources are not being depleted but
instead continue to foster healthy tasteful products. Imagine a soil with an
enormous biodiversity that regenerates itself continously and enables a
sustainable plant nutrition.
Not a myth but a reality beneath your feet
Terra Preta not
just a soil but a myth from the past come to life. It is a cultural technique
which enables men to live and thrive in harmony with the agriculture because
they help closing natural cycles by using harvest left-overs or organic waste.
Terra Preta – known
as „black soil“ in portuguese language – is a natural product, made with
the help of man, made by composting organic remains together with biochar. The
product is a soil with high nutritient and water capacity, and high biological
activity because of its unique porosity structure. We produce this soil out
from high-quality composts combined with biochar from waste wood and digestate,
which contributes to a high nutritient content of our soils.
Preta is organic waste material which is being mixed with charcoal and being
composted and applied on the farming land by mixing it with natural soil.
The Know how of
Terra Preta has been lost for centuries after the colonization of Latin
The Latin American
region has ideal conditions for cocoa cultivation thanks to its fertile soils
and a centuries-old tradition of cocoa cultivation. The tropical climate is
perfect for an agro-forestry system, where cocoa trees can thrive, protected by
rapidly growing shade-giving trees.
Biochar – a „multi-functional Swiss knife tool for the
“biochar” as mentioned is being a relevant factor. Of course it is not an
option to cut Amazonian trees and turn them to charcoal. We suggest a rather
simple low-tech process based on the Kon-Tiki process which has been created by
the Ithaca Institute in Switzerland and developed further to an every-day
application with training sessions by the social startup “Dein Stück Erde” –
english “Your share of soil”.
What are the
benefits of Terra Preta on the cocoa products?
Terra Preta is a
man-made supply of stable humus, that contributes to the soil capacity in water
and nutrients and supplies soil life with rich habitats. Terra Preta’s
intensive nutrient and water capacity supplies the plant right to the point
when the cocoa plant needs them.
Preta furthers the biological diversity of soil life. A high diversity reduces
the pest pressure on the cocoa plant.
Through the better
nutrition status and the lower pest pressure, the plant will be of higher
health and thus quality than on conventional agricultural soils. Pesticides can
be reduced if not even omitted while retaining high quality .
Heavy Metal effect
on cocoa plants
Cocoa is a
high-content zinc supply and is one of the plant nutrients with the highest
zinc content. But as zinc and cadmium are chemically similar, it is also one of
the plants with the highest affinity to cadmium, a harmful heavy metal. Especially
young volcanic soils, as found in the Andean region, release higher amounts of
cadmium. But, as cadmium has a higher affinity to organic matter than zinc,
this can be remedied with a high-organic-content soil, as Terra Preta is.
Therefore, Terra Preta is one of the most effective means of lowering the
cadmium content in plants in special, and other toxic ions (as aluminium) in
application and open-source philosophy
We provide the
knowledge of Terra Preta as open-source knowledge, to give it back to humanity
and South America: We will not charge license fees for the knowledge on Biochar
and Terra Preta, but encourage to share that knowledge to anybody who wants to
use it. So, this agricultural innovation can be used to strengthen, to empower
small-scale farmers all over the world and to feed the world on a decentral
scale. The technical solutions we need for global well-being are all out there,
the problem is not a technological one. Today’s major innovations not be the
technological ones, they will be the social innovations.
Burkhard von Stackelberg
[This text can be
placed in an infobox]
Economic Social Cocoa forests with Terra Preta ensure:
– positive impact on local and global climate thanks to CO2
– biodiversity which contributes to fertility of plants and
works as natural pest control at the finca
Agroforestry system creates:
– protected habitat for many animals and plants,
– water storage and filter system similar to a forest
– fine cocoa and harvest yields which are sustainable due
to the continous humification
– sustainably managed agroforestry systems
– secure and well-paid jobs
– qualified jobs and prosperity in the region
– fair jobs for all employees regardless of gender or
Residents protect forests:
– involving locals leads to willingness to protect cocoa
forests in the region
– usage of cocoa harvest left-overs which are being used
for Terra Preta production
– tradition of cocoa cultivation is strengthened by usage
of Terra Preta and leads to more expertise from which the forests benefit
Training and Education
Training programmes and qualification of our employees
through courses in Terra Preta and Agro-forestry, job safety and cocoa
processing as well as literacy courses if required
Terra Preta in the cocoa production contributes the
Sustainable Development Goals of the UN
Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation:
Economical use of water and the creation of natural water
reservoirs through agroforestry systems.
Goal 13 Climate Action:
Our environmentally friendly agroforestry systems with
increasing humic content contribute to climate protection.
Goal 15 Life on land:
Our agro-forestry systems with Terra Preta guarantee
biodiversity, the protective functions of the forest and improve the quality of
Info-Box What is
Basic principle of pyrolysis – the gas burns and not the wood itself.
the pyrolysis process. When wood is burnt, it is actually not the wood you see
burning, but the pyrolysis gas that is generated during the process. A burning
match is a good example for the process: When heating wood, first the water is
boiled out. In the next phase, the wood heats up until the pyrolysis starts.
During the pyrolysis, the wood is converted to char, while wood gas is generated.
The combustion of the gas gives heat back to the pyrolysing wood. After an
initial heating (match: the ignition head), the process is self-sustaining. In
the end, even the char might be oxygenized, with ash as leftover.
Illustration / photos description
The photos are
showing the biochar and Terra Preta production process.
All photos are from
Burkhard and Dave except the above illustration, that is from the Ithaca
chocolate” (pronounced chocolhatay),
the way people call Theobroma cacao in the Bolivian Amazons, grows wild in big
forested areas, known as “islas”
(islands in Spanish) in the hot and humid plains of the Bolivian Amazonian
basin, mainly in the Beni, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Pando departments.
El chocolate is a product
of paramount importance in of the Bolivian Amazons culture. Indigenous people
consider this plant as unique and are certain it is native of this area. It
seems logical in fact to consider the Amazon as its birthplace, considering it
offers all the climatic conditions Theobroma cacao requires to grow, especially
considering temperature and humidity.
De facto it is not totally certain how this
plant has been introduced in the Amazon territory, especially considering that
it is endemic to inaccessible areas of the riverbank. Evidences suggest that cocoa
has been used as an exchange good between the indigenous tribes of the Andean
areas many years before the arrival of Europeans in the land now called América. This seems to indicate that
either cocoa is native of the region, either it has been introduced there
through the pre-hispanic migration from central to South America. According to
another theory, cocoa arrived in the region due to the Jesuit missions in the 18th
This is not easy to prove considering the extremely isolated and remote areas
where the islasdechocolate developed.
However, in Bolivia the endemic variety is unique and criolla (“native” in
Spanish, term used to describe the local, pure variety). Moreover, in the
upstream area of the river Iténez it is possible to find a particular cocoa
variety considered primitive, characterized by a rough and spiny skin.
One of the characterizing features of the cocoa tree is
its permanent verdant state, it never sheds its leaves. They are renovated
permanently providing a constant shade around the tree, preventing the
evaporation of the water present in the soil and maintaining the needed high
percentage of humidity. Entering the so-called islas, the big areas where the cocoa trees grow in a great number,
you will immediately perceive a pleasant reduction of the temperature which,
outside, exceeds the 35°C in full sun.
In the first half of
the past century, cocoa plantations had a very important role for the
livelihood of the rural communities of this area. Farmers harvested the fruits
and traded the beans in the form of panes,
flat balls of cocoa made of beans roasted and manually grounded. The panes are used to prepare a traditional
drink, the most common way to consume cocoa by the indigenous people. In more
recent years, cocoa production experienced a decline, mainly due to two
factors. The first one is related to the introduction in the market of
cocoa-derived products mostly manufactured outside the country. In particular,
we refer to the instant cocoa powder, a product which makes easier and faster
the preparation of the drinking chocolate, providing a faster alternative to
the traditional method. This method entails the following sequence of steps:
grate the “cocoa ball” in water, make it boil, then vigorously stir with a
wooden whisk called molinillo. This
tool helps the emulsion of the fat in the water in order to obtain a frothy
drink. The instant cocoa powder, instead, only requires to be poured in hot
water. It is a time-saving product and responds to the needs of the faster
rhythm of modern life. In these times, it seems that there is no time to waste,
no more space for the traditional drink crafted by the farmers. The second
factor, probably the most significant, is determined by the increase in the
cattle-breeding sector and in the mechanized cropping of soya, rice and others.
Because of that, big portions of forest, which include wild plantations of
cocoa, are cut down and transformed into pastures and intensive cropping. The
remaining wild cocoa crops localized in remote areas, following the course of
rivers, are less attractive to farmers. Besides, flooding-susceptible for at
least 3 months a year these areas are also at risk of disappearing.
It is actually their inaccessibility and remoteness which
guarantee the “purity” of the native cocoa growing in this region. In fact,
although foreign varieties have been introduced in the country, they have not
reached the islas of wild cocoa in
the Amazonian Plain. The introduction of new varieties has been experimented in
the sub Andean region including the Northern part of La Paz Department and
South of Cochabamba. In this area cocoa crops are properly managed during the
whole plantation process, whereas, as we are going to explain afterwards, in
the Amazons there is no human interaction other than the harvesting.
year, farmers living in the communities settled on the proximity of the rivers
relatively close to the islas of
cocoa organize expeditions in the jungle to collect the beans. In this area
cocoa fruits get ripe during the rainy season, from December to March. Farmers
navigate the rivers in flood and through inundated pampas up to 5 days on board of rustic traditional boats. They
settle camps in the islas and they
stay there all the necessary time to obtain the final product. Farmers harvest,
break the fruits, collect the beans and let them drain in hanging bags locally
knitted using palm leaves for three/four days. Then, cocoa beans are spread on
the top of palm leaves and left there drying under the sun. When beans are
ready, farmers get back on their boats and transport the dried beans to the
closest market to sell them. The harvest time is off, and nobody goes back to
the cocoa islas until the following
year. During this time, it is up to the wild fauna to guarantee the survival of
the crop spreading the seeds around the islas.
family participates in the expeditions. Women and children generally follow the
men in the plantations leaving homes and schools, being exposed to jungle
dangers and diseases: the raining season in fact is the period in which
mosquitos and midges are the most prolific. In some cases, the family splits
temporarily in order to protect the children from these risks: children remain
in the communities with family relatives while parents deal with the harvesting
activities in the plantations.
farmers use the so-called “habilito”
system in order to make possible the expedition to the wild cocoa forest. This
system consists in using funding to cover food supplies and other expedition
costs with the commitment of paying it back with part or the totality of the
beans sale profit.
local market is small, and the beans quality is not high enough to qualify them
suitable for the upscale international market. Farmers know the offer is high
considering the small market and is concentrated in the same short period. They
try to sell their yield as fast as possible, while the price lowers
dramatically. The income then hardly compensates the sacrifices made and do not
provide the condition to improve farmers living conditions, causing more and
more the abandonment of this traditional harvesting practices.
biggest communities in the area are Camiaco and Gundonovia. Camiaco is located
at around 100km from Trinidad, the capital of the Beni Department, and they are
connected by an unpaved road built 5 years ago. However, during the raining
season this road is unpassable and the only alternative is travelling by
canoes. Gundanovia is located 3 days of navigation from Camiaco, through the
fast-flowing river Mamoré and its tributary the river Sécure.
mentioned before, farmers enter the wild cocoa islas once a year and only to
collect fruits, they do not implement pruning or any other plant management
practices. This results in a lower yield per hectare compared to the
plantations where management activities are carried out. However, the low
productivity is compensated by the considerable islas size and the absence of
maintenance costs. On the other hand, this practice guarantees the total
naturality of the production, the ecosystem protection and the conservation of
the abundant local fauna.
last years, cocoa produced in Baures (central area of Beni department) has been
presented by some private enterprises at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris
obtaining excellent results. Back in 2013 this cocoa has been awarded as one of
the 18-best cocoa of the world. Cocoas produced in different areas of the
country are following the same path with similar good expectation, cocoa
produced in Riberalta (northern part of Beni) is one example. This reflects the
resurgence of cocoa farming in the regional economy and the farmers’
reconsideration and exploitation of the treasure hidden in the Bolivian
The most unseen and concealed cocoa is the one growing in the Southern part of
Beni, on the shore of the river Mamoré, the “mother of the waters” in the local
language, in the Marbán province, probably due to its remoteness. The closest
community is in fact Camiaco, reachable only by water during the whole raining
living in the communities of this region are getting aware of the importance to
protect and rationally take advantage of the islas’ natural product who they consider as a hidden treasure. They
want to preserve cocoa trees for its economic, ecologic and nutritional value:
a perfect habitat for a rich fauna which efficiently captures CO2. They are
making efforts to prevent the cutdown of the islas, its fall in private hands,
or its replacement with other crops, as well as the introduction of foreign
cocoa varieties that could negatively affect the present ecosystem.
commitment toward the protection of the area has been boosted even more by a
sensory analysis of the islas wild
cocoa, realized in Europe. The promising results are particularly positive in
comparison with the cocoa of other Bolivian regions, due to its distinctive
aroma, taste and texture. From the same study, it has been recognized that some
improvements need to be implemented in the post-harvest activities, in order to
enhance the beans quality. On their side, farmers express the need for
training, support, as well as post-harvest equipment, realizable using local
natural materials. In this sense, it would be helpful to create a pilot farmers
group which will commit to implement these recommended good practices. The idea
is that the resulting high-quality product will be then feasible to enter an
upscale market and be sold at a higher price justifying the effort made.
Another useful action would be to build
some collection centres in the communities nearby the islas in order to centralize the post-harvesting activities.
Farmers will transport the ripe mazorcas,
the cocoa fruits, from the plantations to the collection centres where women
will be in charge of the fermentation and drying processes. The mazorcas transport will be realized by
water on barges, which guarantee quality, hygiene and are apt to maintain the
fruits’ characteristics. In this way, women will contribute to the family
income without leaving the community. Children as well will not interrupt their
attendance at school. The financing system often needed now, the so-called habilito, would cease to be required and
a higher income would result from the sale of a higher quality product. The
guarantee of a higher family income will respond to the superior effort surely
needed. However, in order to put into practise these ideas the need for a financial
and practical external support is undeniable.
same region, but in an area further away from the river and the wild cocoa islas, there are other little villages
and farmers communities which exploit the production of cocoa criollo growing
spontaneous in the gardens. Given the small plantation extension, the
production is very low, but the quality looks similar to that of the wild
islas. This can be explained by the fact that both trees belong to the same,
local variety and are part of the same ecosystem in terms of environmental
temperature, humidity and soil characteristics.
of these rural communities, among which we can mention Villa Alba, San Andrés
and San Lorenzo, belonging to the municipality of San Andrés in the province of
Marbán, live of traditional and rudimentary cropping, using manual tools and
producing goods like yuca, plantain, rice, corn, sugar cane etc. In addition,
they exploit the fruit trees spontaneously growing in the gardens or canchones (enclosed fields arising
around the houses), mainly cocoa, avocado, citrus fruits, achaicharu’ (fruiting
tree related to the mangosteen), mango etc.
people of the communities generally work seasonally in cattle farms of the area
as labourers or move to the capital Trinidad, where they mainly find work as
builders. During the raining season, villages and fields remain under the water
for long time and crops can be lost while cattle farmers need to move to other
dried regions. The dried season, whose peak is generally from July to November,
is also very intense. The high temperature and the lack of rain make the
pastures and forests very dry and at risk of fire. The shortage of water in the
areas further away from the rivers frequently causes fish and cattle mortality.
Cocoa plantations, instead, are not affected by the drought as heavily as other
crops thanks to the thick layer of their own dried leaves covering the ground.
This leaves coating maintains the humidity in the soil while providing the
nutrients to the plants through decomposition.
communities take advantage of the fruits of their small cocoa plantations for
the domestic consumption and sell the extra in the local market. These
communities support the farmers who harvest cocoa in the islas along the river. They hope one day to be part of a bigger
market meeting the expected demand increase through the shift of lands from
pastures to cocoa plantations. This would be the way towards a good improvement
of farmers quality of life.
After this presentation of the cocoa
farming in Bolivia, we want to present also a little tale by the same author
which describes from a closer point of view farmers
life in the communities.
It is 5 in the morning, and the first light of the day
paints the horizons with all the possible colours above the turbid water of the
“the mother of the waters”. The river is at its highest level and floods where
the land is low and the streams run, inundating the pampa and most of the jungle. There is hustle at the port of Camiaco, a rural village consisting in
an assembly of wooden huts. Roofs are made of leaves of motacú or chuchío palm, a species of cane which grows copious
on the riverbank. Three “chocolateros”
families bid farewell/take leave to relatives and friends and get ready to get
on their rustic boat to go harvest in the chocolatales on the riverside. They will navigate for 3
days to reach the plantations, in big remote virgin islas (islands), where they
will stay during one, two or three months. For this reason, they delegate the
job of looking after their hens, homes, ducks to whom remains in the village.
The cropping has been flooded so there is no job left to do, except to prevent
the cattle from invading the banana and plantain plantations and collect the
Camiaco is the last small village in the southern Beni
department which is reachable by road. However, this road lies unused during
the summer or raining season, which they call el
tiempo de agua, “time of water”. During
this period of time, which generally lasts 3 months, the unique way is by
water. Canoes equipped with oars or outboard motors gain importance while
mainland paths lie abandoned. They navigate on rivers, streams, flooded
lowlands and pampas looking for the most direct way to get to the closest
community which, in the case of Camiaco, is Loreto, the capital of the
province. Recently, electricity has been provided but people are not used to it
yet, they keep going to bed early in the evening and getting up at dawn. The
river is the main water supplier for generic uses, while the drinking water
comes from a borehole without any potabilization/purification treatment. There
is no sewage service and the mosquito net is indispensable to keep the mosquito
away while sleeping.
In this side of the world, the word chocolate refers to the cocoa
tree, the mazorca (the fruit), the beans or seed, the paste obtained from the
roasted and grounded beans, the delicious hot drink… The cacao islas, “cocoa
island”, are called chocolatal. Cocoa trees grow wild, not being planted by
anyone and farmers harvest them for their daily consumption. Cocoa grows all
around their houses in all the villages of the area, so they do not bother
planting more cocoa. Their main activity regard other cropping, especially
yucca, corn and rice. Indigenous people here think that cocoa is a blessing, a
gift from the nature, essential part of their diet. They roast the beans and
prepare a cocoa paste, panes de chocolate, gently simmered and served steaming,
pure or with milk. They make a delicious gallinazo, a traditional plate very similar to the arroz con leche (rice with
milk) recipe, but with hot chocolate instead of milk, or prepare tujuré, corn dough cooked with chocolate.
El chocolate, or “chucraté” in the local dialect (one
of the 36 indigenous Bolivian languages), is a fruit kindly dispensed by the
abundant nature of the endless Amazonian forest of the Beni region. Here it
grows since immemorial times, nobody planted it, it grows wild like all the
other trees of the jungle grow, maybe transported with the pre Colombian
migrations or maybe native to this region of the world, then spread in the rest
of South America through these very migrations. What is certain is that it is
there, growing in the houses’ courtyards, in the middle of the forest and in
the huge “islands” on the riverbank.
islas located on the rivers shore are far away from the human settlements and
are, hence, completely wild, virgin, pure, belonging to a variety considered
“criolla” (“native” in Spanish). Its propagators are natural: monkeys, parrots,
wild boars and squirrels. They have a natural defence: they are far away from
big human settlements, without any communication or interaction with them until
its fruits are ready to be collected in the raining season and the area lies
flooded for approximately three months. Only the efforts of those locals who
dare to face the river navigating on a fragile boat, to deal with the dangers
of the jungle, to fight with mosquito clouds and to risk to fall sick, to build
unstable camps using natural materials found in the jungle itself, like
branches, palm and leaves surviving at
least a month with what they manage to get from the nature: fish, wild animal’s
meat, fruits and, obviously, chocolate.
They collect the fruits, open them and dry the beans
in the same place, fighting with the rain and the mosquitos. The work is hard
and demanding but the family is united and strong, they know about the risks
and are used to sacrifice. Farmers are protected from the unforgiving sun by
the impenetrable canopy, the temperature is tolerable in the shade despite the
average temperature of 34° C and while harvesting workers enjoy the unique
flavour of the pulp surrounding the beans. Children are agile and expert in
climbing the thin branches and get to the most difficult fruits; women are fast
and precise opening the mazorcas and are in charge of the meal preparation,
using the limited ingredients to feed the family; men bring the beans to the
camp carrying heavy bags. There, beans will be fermented in hanging bags and
dried spread on palm leaves knitted in a forest clearing. They are constantly
attentive to the roar of the jaguar or the presence of a sneaky rattlesnake;
the birds singing is warning the danger. They hunt and fish in the chocolatal
and its surroundings helped by the dogs, their irreplaceable companion.
reward will come when they will be back at the community’s port with their
precious cargo. some of it will be deliver
to whom supported them through the “habilito” system, the trader who financed
food and expenses for the travel. What is left will be sold preferably to a
known trader or to the best bidder. Everything goes to the local market; they
do not know that this treasure could be sold to the other side of the world.
harvest is off, and the forest will be waiting a year for the gatherers to come
back during the following season. Until that moment it will not receive any
human visit and its natural permanent inhabitants will
be again in command, enjoying the perpetual shade and
the late fruits. Boars, birds, insects, reptiles, predators…the wildlife will
continue harmoniously with the wild cocoa.
I do not know if it is the lush jungle, the
green colour of the forest and the pampa, if it is the river or the closeness
with such a plentiful and diverse fauna, the hot climate, the humidity or the
chocolate which they consumed so abundantly; what is certain is that people who
harvest this incredible fruit in the middle of the jungle are always joyous. Walking barefoot they
sing, their clothes torn apart and they smile, you bring them in the middle of
the forest and they dance, receiving a low income for their hard work and they
carry out other jobs singing, whistling, smiling, cultivating the land and
fishing in the river…They live like the wild cocoa trees growing on the
riverbank: in complete harmony with the nature. They are guardians like the
river, extremely welcoming they open their arms towards everybody like trees.
you eat some chocolate, you can taste the exuberant wilderness, the flavour of
the forest, the river, the rain, the soil, the shade, the sacrifice, the
efforts, the goodness. Enjoy, and send a grateful thought to the men who live in the forest, who is
offering you a treasure, his treasure.
 A particular fermentation
method called “en sacos”. Beans are left inside hanging bags for 3 to 5 days,
while the sugar present in the pulp surrounding the beans ferments. During this
process an acidic liquid is produced; it drains down from the bags and is
collected in bucket. After several months of fermentation, it is used as
The number of transformations a cocoa bean
undergoes before becoming chocolate gives us an idea of the amount of people
involved in the cocoa value chain. With the concept of value chain, we refer to
“the linked set of value creating activities all the way from basic raw
material sources for component suppliers through the ultimate end-use product
delivered into the final customers’ hands”.
Basically, we follow the raw material, the cocoa bean, from the plantation to
the final product offered to the consumer, focusing on the actors who play a
role within the series of transformation activities. Beyond acknowledging the
long chain of people involved, it is very important to understand the kind of
relationships and dynamics between them. The size, economic power,
vulnerability connected to risks, integration into the market etc. are all
factors that affect the strength of each actor and his sustainability.
We will analyse
briefly the value chain segments, considering supply, processing activities,
and distribution. We will focus on the demand, describing the new tendencies,
and, finally, discuss the main cocoa international value chain characteristics.
The cocoa supply is concentrated in a very narrow
geographic band near the equator, between 20ºN and 20ºS, due to climatic and
rainfall requirements of the crop.
This band includes:
Africa, in particular Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Togo,
Central & South America, especially Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Dominican
Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama and
Asia, mainly Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia.
Native of the upper Amazon region of northwest South
America, it spread in Central America and has been imported by colonialists in
Africa and Asia during the 19th century in order to meet the growing
demand. In particular, it seems that the first cacao plant growing in the
African region was localized on the island of San Thomé in 1822, introduced by
the Portuguese. In the
1870s cocoa plants have been introduced also in the West African Gold Coast and
World cocoa production has risen erratically from
almost 2.9 million tonnes in the 2000/2001 to almost 4.8 million tonnes in the
an average annual growth rate of 3.2%, whose deviations are mainly due to the
influence of climatic factors. According to the 2018 data, the 76% of the
production is grown in Africa, 17% in Latin America, and the remaining 7% in
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) reports
that Ivory Coast is the biggest producer: its production reached the 44% of the
world production in 2018/19 and is steadily growing. Ghana and Indonesia have been slowly
decreasing in the last decade representing, respectively, 18.7% and, 4.5%. Ivory
Coast, Ghana and Indonesia are the three largest producing countries and, in
aggregate, account for approximately 67.2% of the global production.
The following four largest producers are Ecuador
(6.2%) which lately overcome Cameroon and Nigeria (5.1% and 5.2% respectively)
and Brazil (4%), representing jointly the 20% of cocoa beans yield.
predominantly a smallholder crop, more than 90% of world cocoa production
originates in fact from small, family-run farms, with approximately five to six
million cocoa farmers worldwide. The typical farm are smallholdings of under 5
hectares, with the exception of Ecuador and Brazil, where the large-estate
structure dominates. Yield per hectare varies not only by region, but also by
country and by cocoa variety. There are two main categories of cocoa
plantation: agroforestry and full sun system. The traditional system mainly
used by smallholder farmers is the first one whereby forest is selectively
thinned so that cocoa and other trees (e.g. fruit trees) can be planted beneath
the remaining canopy. This
system has the potential of serving both economic and environmental ends, seen
by many as the best method for preserving some of the intact biodiversity of
the Atlantic Rainforest, especially in Latin America. The other system is the
full sun plantation, an intensive monoculture mainly used in African big crops,
where the original forest remains only in patchy fragments.
Most of the cocoa production is a bulk good (conventional cocoa
beans) with enormous amounts of beans from different origins mixed together
during the processing activities; on the other hand, there is the “Cacao fino
de aroma”. The Fino de Aroma denomination is an ICCO classification which
describes an exquisite aroma and flavour of the beans, which is generally
recognized to derive from criollo and trinitarian varieties. The proportion of
fine or flavour cocoa in the total world production of cocoa beans has always
been relatively small and has being falling over the years. From between 40%
and 50% at the beginning of the 20th century, with Ecuador and Trinidad &
Tobago being the major producers, it currently represents just over 5% per
annum, 76% of which is grown in Latin America.
Besides the plantation managing and harvesting activities, farmers
are in charge of the so-called primary processing: fermentation and drying
process. These steps are very delicate and responsible for the development of
those characteristics which determine the beans quality. Usually each farmer
independently undertakes these processes and sell the beans once dried.
However, there are more and more examples of farmers that, when logistic and
social conditions allow it, organize themselves in groups. Joined in
cooperatives and associations, farmers bring their yield in gathering centres
near the plantations, where they are mixed together and processed in big
batches. In this way they are able to put on the market bigger quantity of a
uniform product, which is exactly what cocoa buyer needs. Sometimes chocolate
producers in cocoa producer countries prefer to control the whole
transformation process starting from the primary processing (given its
paramount importance to obtain high quality chocolate). In this case, farmers
are asked to sell beans still wet. Even though this seems an attractive selling
opportunity, since it entails less work for the farmers, it is not the best
option. Unprocessed beans’ price is obviously lower than dried beans one, which
means a loss in profitability for the farmers. Anyway, this practise represents
an exception. The big majority of farmers sell dried beans, either
independently, or through a farmers’ organization. Directly, or through one or
more traders, the cocoa beans end up in the hands of chocolate makers or
grinders who are responsible for the secondary processing.
The secondary processing activities encompasses all the
transformations between dried cocoa beans and cocoa derivates like cocoa liquor
(or mass), cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate. Whereas the primary
processing must take place in the producing countries, in the farm ground or
nearby, the secondary processing has always been concentrated in other areas of
the world, mainly for historical reasons.To explain this value chain’s
characteristics, we need to go back to the 16th century, when Spanish colonists
brought the exotic beans to Europe. While in their home countries, cocoa beans
were consumed in a cold, spicy drink, the xocolatl,
Europeans explored different ways to enjoy them. Consumed hot due to the cooler
climate and with the addition of sugar and old-world spices to meet the local
taste, cocoa spread fast in Europe. During the Industrial Revolution some
important discoveries changed the course of cocoa consumption. First of all,
the introduction of the steam engine made it possible to mechanize the cocoa
bean grinding, progressively making the cocoa power affordable to the mass. In
1828 for the first time a hand-operated cocoa press filtered out the cocoa
butter from the beans, allowing the extraction of the most expensive and
precious cocoa component. Moreover, this discovery has been the foundation of
the invention of chocolate as we know it. Adding a part of the so obtained
cocoa butter to the cocoa mass (instead of using water, as every other
chocolate maker did at the time), in 1847 in his laboratory in Bristol, Joseph
Fry created the first chocolate bar. The new „eating chocolate“ has
been incredibly successful, and in the early 20th century it outsold drinking
chocolate. In 1875, in Switzerland another revolutionary change occurred when
Daniel Peter produced the first milky chocolate by adding to the liquor an
at-the-time new powdered milk developed by the chemist Henri Nestlé, an expert
in milk products. Finally, in 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate has been
further improved with the invention of the conching machine by Rodolphe
Lindt. The fact that all these discoveries have taken place in Europe reflects
the interest in this new product. “The industry is centred in Europe, that is
where all the production technology comes from, where all the innovations
regarding manufacturing take place”- writes J.G. Brenner in her book “Inside
the secret worlds of Mars and Hershey”. It does not surprise that nowadays the
majority of the world’s cocoa is imported, transformed, and consumed in Europe,
followed by North America (United States and Canada). In 2011, the largest
cocoa trade flow was between Africa, the world’s largest cocoa producing
region, and the European Union, the world’s largest cocoa consuming region,
representing 54% of the world total.
Over recent years, it is
possible to see a tendency towards a more uniform global distribution of
secondary processing activities, especially considering those developing
countries where chocolate consumption is increasing. For example, countries
like Indonesia and Brazil, two traditional exporter countries, are now net
importers of beans from West Africa due to the rapidly growing domestic demand
for chocolate. In the 14 years between
2000 and 2014, grinding activities have increased by 11.6% in Europe and by
only 0.06% in America while those in Africa and Asia and Oceania have more than
Nevertheless, despite this trend towards
redistribution, the major part of dried cocoa beans produced in the world
remains destined for exportation (55%).
Within Europe, the major grinders are Germany and
Netherlands where respectively 9,6%
and 12,7% of the total world cocoa beans are
processed. In Africa, the major grinders are also the main producers: Côte
d’Ivoire (12.3%), and Ghana (6.3%).
Regarding the Americas, United States grind almost
8.3% of total cocoa beans, followed by Brazil
which processes almost 5%. Lastly, within Asia and
Oceania, Indonesia is the biggest cocoa processor, being responsible of the
10.4% of the global grinding activities, increasing by 3% in the last 4 years.
It is important to make some comments regarding the actors
that get involved in the cocoa processing at this point of the chain. Below, we
present different categories of actors whose similar roles can be mistaken.
Cocoa grinders and processors are the companies that buy huge quantities of cocoa beans and produce semi-finished goods like cocoa nibs, cocoa liquor or mass, butter and powder. This category is dominated by big multinational companies like Barry Callebaut, Olam, Cargill, Ecom etc. Even though consumers are generally not familiar with these brands, their product is contained in the majority of the confectionery product available in the shops. Two processors, Barry Callebaut (which bought Singapore Ldt in 2012), and Cargill (after its merger with ADM in 2014, which has been acquired by Olam International in 2015), produce almost 80% of the world cocoa products.
Chocolate producers or cocoa manufacturers are those who process the beans and make chocolate and chocolate confectionery for the mass market. This category is represented by very popular companies like Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Mars, Hershey etc. In 2012, only five companies (Mars, Molendéz International, Nestlé, Hershey’s and Ferrero) accounted for 88% of the confectioner’s market.
their massive market share, these giants are not the only ones that transform
cocoa in chocolate. There are still some little companies producing craft
chocolate on a smaller scale, usually of a higher/premium quality, but at a
disadvantage to the bulk, industrial market.
“chocolate makers” or “bean to bar producers” we refer to companies with a
small processing capacity that
produce chocolate in small batches from fermented and dried specialty cocoa.
Chocolate manufacturers and makers differ in terms of size and market: big
companies aiming at the mass market on one side, and small companies producing
high quality chocolate for a niche market of aware consumers on the other.
Obviously, they use different equipment and techniques according to the beans’
characteristics, the products they aim to and the investment they can afford.
chocolatiers or chocolate artisans usually buy couverture chocolate (chocolate with a specific percentage of added
cocoa butter) directly from chocolate manufacturers/processors. It is used for
the production of chocolate pralines, truffle, bars and other final products.
They are specialized in the very last part of the cocoa transformation,
creatively involved to create sophisticated treats they generally cannot afford
to invest in the whole cocoa transformation process.
manufacturers and consumers of chocolate are Europe and United States, with a
consumption of 1,812 and 775 million tonnes respectively in 2013. The
EU accounts for almost 50% of world consumption of cocoa beans, importing 1.2
billion Euros worth of confectionery goods and products and exporting products
worth over 4.4 billion Euros. On
the other hand, the U.S. chocolate industry consumes USD 1.4 billion in cocoa
and cocoa products. Even if Western Europe remains the largest chocolate market
in the world, a slow growth suggests saturation.
decades, we can summarize the general chocolate market trends by analysing two
main tendencies: on one side a new rising interest in chocolate and
confectionery products in Asian and South American markets, on the other the
growth of niche specialty and certified market in countries where the
consumption of conventional cocoa products is not increasing anymore: EU and
According to Mondelez, in 2014 the
following eight are the markets where the market growth is strongest, driving
70% of the world’s confectionery growth: Brazil, China, Colombia, India,
Russia, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. Russia is the only emerging market
to feature in the top 20 consuming nations with the highest chocolate
consumption among the BRIC and MINT nations. Turkey and India have been pointed
out as the main actors of the future chocolate market. In Asia, Japan is the
largest consumer market for chocolate confectionery, producing more than 90% of
chocolate (with a manufacturer’s value of USD 38 million) and importing the
remaining part, to meet the domestic demand, from U.S., Australia, Belgium,
China, South Korea, France, Italy, and Switzerland. The other two major
emerging markets are China and India. Chocolate consumption in China has risen
robustly in recent years: in 2010, the population of China consumed 40,000 tons
of chocolate, while nowadays it has risen by 75% to 70,000 tons. The estimated
Indian demand, instead, has reached 45,000 tons in 2013. In Latin America, the
largest consumer is Brazil, where consumption has touched 198 million tonnes in
2013, turning Brazil, a traditionally exporting country, into an importing one.
With regards to traditional chocolate
markets, like EU and North America, luxury chocolate market of artisan brands
is expanding. Chocolate products are turning from a mass product into a niche
high-quality good whose social and environmental impact is a key element in
consumers’ choice. As well as other food product, in developed markets the
products’ origin is an increasingly important driver in the consumer purchasing
decisions. The traditional cocoa consuming countries of Western Europe
(Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) as well
as Japan are the main consumer markets for fine flavour cocoa, while the United
States of America uses this type of cocoa on a smaller scale.
Since the beginning of the new century the
international interest for certified products such as cocoa has grown
considerably. This tendency results from an increasing sensibility towards
social and environmental product impact, critical elements in the moment of
purchase. Both production and sales of Fairtrade cocoa have been growing at a
relatively steady rate over the last years (from 11% to 50% per annum from 2008
to 2011) and volumes of Fairtrade certified sales are expected to continue
their rapid growth pattern. Public commitments by multinational companies and
nation legislation will likely lead to reductions in the gap between supply and
demand in the coming decades. A positive trend is visible also in the demand
for the other kinds of certified cocoa, particularly for what concerns Organic
cocoa and fine aroma cocoa. This is the reason why all stakeholders within the
cocoa value chain, from the largest manufacturing multinational companies to
the smallholder farmers in developing countries, are involved in this new
Many major chocolate companies recently
started using certified cocoa. There are various reasons for companies to move
to certified supply chains: supply security, demand from consumers, improvement
of brand reputation, credibility of claims, transparency of (a part of) the
supply chain, cost reduction in sustainability processes, and efficiency. On
the other hand, there is confusion regarding the amount of available certified
cocoa in the market. Some companies claim that they cannot increase purchases
of certified cocoa due to a lack of supply. Standards Bodies and
farmers, on the contrary, indicate that production of certified cocoa is far
higher than demand. Although there are valid potential reasons for this
overshoot, the current significant differences warrant further research on this
gap in claimed supply and claimed demand (Cocoa Barometer
In 2008, Cadbury
(now acquired by Mondelez, formerly Kraft Foods) was the first major chocolate
company to declare the use of certified cocoa. Concerning the major
manufacturers, each of them follows different strategies in defining
sustainability: some will use certification of the standard bodies, some are
working through their own projects, and others are combining both approaches.
In 2009, Mars was the first major global chocolate company to commit to use
100% certified cocoa for their entire range by 2020, followed by Ferrero,
Nestlé and Hershey which made their commitment to be compliant to renowned
standards with some spatial or temporal constraints. Moreover, even at a
national level, some countries have started implementing regulation concerning
the import of certified product: the Netherlands, the global leader in cocoa
imports, have committed to use sustainable cocoa for all domestic cocoa and
chocolate products by 2025.
From the production
point of view, the past years have seen a significant rise in certified cocoa
production. Considering Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified
production, the share of certified beans has risen from 3.4 to 33% of the world
total production in between 2009 and 2013. As to what concern Organic cocoa
production, sources are contradictory: an estimation presented by ICCO
suggested 0.5%of the world production, while according to the International
Institute of Sustainable Research (IISD) the percentage of organic cocoa in
2011 was equal to 2.5%, namely 104,000 metric tons. The bulk of Fairtrade
production is concentrated in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Ecuador
and Peru; while Latin America
produces 70% of global organic cocoa beans. Dominican Republic is the largest
supplier of organic cocoa worldwide with an annual volume of 5 000 tonnes.
As you can notice from this
brief overview there is a strong juxtaposition between the small family-run
farms where cocoa is produced, and the few, large multinational companies in
the North hemisphere where chocolate is manufactured and consumed. These two
worlds appear to be divided, far apart in terms of localization and
Only 8 traders and grinders
control approximately three quarters of the worldwide cocoa trade. Five
companies (Mars, Molendéz International, Nestlé, Hershey’s and Ferrero)
accounted for 88% of the confectionary market in 2012. These impressive numbers
show the asymmetry in terms of economic power between the actors involved in
the chain and, at the same time, the concentration of the companies operating
the downstream activities. Technically, we can speak about a bi-polar
governance, where one pole, and the most powerful, is represented by the
grinders, who are located in both producing and consuming countries, and the
second pole by the large chocolate manufacturers. In this scenario, farmers are
not actively involved at any point in the balance of power.
Another key point characterizing the cocoa value
chain is the uneven value distribution.
Considering the chain as a whole, the economic value
is not generated by the raw material: almost the totality of the final product
value is added by the companies carrying out the downstream activities,
normally operating in big consumer countries. Looking at the value distribution
in the chain we can see that only 6% goes to the producers, whereas the other
94% is divided among the actors implementing the secondary processing and
The 3 mentioned value chain characteristics, namely (i) the strong
fragmentation and disarticulation between upstream and downstream activities,
so far apart and badly connected, (ii) the high concentration of multinationals
in the downstream market and (iii) the uneven value distribution between
actors, explain and weaken the farmers position. They appear excluded, passive
participant of the chain, with low or insignificant bargaining power, little or
no opportunity to improve their position by themselves.
Still, the producers are the ones that bear all the risks related to
weather, diseases and the other environmental variables as well as the
fluctuation of the international price. Moreover, it is important to notice
that the actual beans quality is created by the farmers. The quality in fact
does not depend only on the cocoa variety and the weather condition, the 70% of
it depends on human action. The crop maintenance, the harvesting timing and
technique, and precise first processing activities strongly determine the
quality. If these delicate activities are not carried out in the best way, it
will not be possible to enhance the quality of the final product during the
In spite of that,
in a market where the 80% of world cocoa products are produced by only two
multinational companies (Barry Callebaut and Cargill), it appears clear that
quality is not the main goal. In a market characterized by such a production
rush, the farmers position and the way they work do not make any difference.
Quantity and consistency are the most valuable variables. The actual cocoa
taste becomes secondary, it can be corrected and “standardized” afterwards, in
the processing factories. Reacting to this pressure, producers ended up focusing
on productivity, at the expense of quality. This contributes to the increase of
agrochemical use, intensive plantation areas at the expense of the rainforests,
highly- productive cocoa clones at the costs of plants biodiversity, or, more
and more frequently, it determines the shift in labour force and land use out
of cacao into more profitable products or the abandonment of the cocoa
However, despite these being the general tendencies characterizing
the global cocoa value chain, increasingly numerous are the examples of farmers
or group of farmers that are investing time and energy to improve their
production. Willing to focus and learn about the environmental impact of
production and the reasons behind the implementation of agroforestry system
plantations, they are more and more aware of the importance of the “first
processing” activities. The promotion of training projects with cocoa
producers, with the opportunity to invest in transformation equipment and
facilities open the way to the improvement of production quality. This is the
first step to enter niche market, with a short value chain and fair recognition
for all of the actors involved. At the same time, the acknowledgement of the
weaknesses within to the cocoa value chain by the consumers is of paramount
importance, and is able to shift the demand, through more aware everyday
 ICCO is a forum established in
1973 by the UN, with governmental members from production and
consumption countries with the aim of administering the first
International Cocoa Agreement. It is now the main world forum for the gathering
and dissemination of information about cocoa, it promotes cocoa research
and studies of the
economics of cocoa production, consumption and distribution and encourages
 May P., Vegro R., Menezes JA
(1993). Coffee and cacao production and processing in Brazil.
Clay J (2004). World
agriculture and the environment. Island Press, Washington
 This theme is further
developed in the relative article “Cocoa production systems. Agroforestry
system vs full sun plantation”
 The World Cocoa Economy:
Past and Present, 26 July 2012. Published by ICCO –
 Economic Profile of the EU
Chocolate Industry. World Cocoa Foundation, 2011
 There are 4 internationally
accepted Standards Bodies: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International,
Rainforest Alliance, Organic, and UTZ Certified and they have the task of advising
farmers on how to implement better farming practices, establishing protocols on
dealing with environmental and social issues, implementing auditing and third
party verification on these issues, and communication to consumers at the end
of the trade chains, thereby creating a necessary level of assurance. Standards
are defined after consultation and in close cooperation with various
stakeholders in the cocoa supply chain, including farmers.
 Cocoa Barometer is a report
evaluating cocoa sustainability efforts released by a consortium of European
civil society organizations that includes Oxfam, Solidaridad and the VOICE
 There are several explanations
for the strong presence of Organic cocoa production in Latin America, including
the traditional use of agroforestry production systems in the region, the
production of cocoa for specialty markets and the existence of more direct
supply chains in the region.
Everybody knows what
chocolate is and that it is made of cocoa beans, but if you happen to find a
bag full of beans, would you be able to make some chocolate out of them? Let’s
analyse step by step what the whole process is, following the long journey of the
cocoa beans from the plantation to the moment in which we find it in the shop
in the form of chocolate.
The long chain of processes that transform
any commodity into the final product is called “supply chain”. The supply chain is often compared to a river,
where each activity is connected to the following one as the flowing water. As
in a river, the long chain of transformation activities can be divided into two
main phases: Upstream activities and Downstream ones (which, within the cocoa
industry, coincide with the so-called Primary and Secondary Processing). In the
cocoa supply chain, the upstream
activities relate to everything that happens in the farm or in small
shelters nearby and is operated by the farmers. This first phase includes land
selection, soil preparation, weeding and pruning, pest and disease control,
harvesting, pod opening, shelling and the
so-called post-harvest process or, in Spanish, beneficio which consists of fermentation, (washing), drying and
phase covers, instead, the industrial processing of the beans to obtain
semi-finished and finished products. These are nibs, cocoa paste (or liquor or
cocoa mass), cocoa butter, cocoa powder, chocolate and confectionery containing
chocolate. These activities are generally carried out in factories by cocoa
processors, chocolate manufacturers and confectionary industries; or they can
be made in a more artisanal way by chocolate makers through the nowadays
well-known beans to bar process. At
the very end of the chain we can find also little chocolate producers or chocolatiers who buy cocoa mass from
cocoa processing factories and make chocolate, pralines or other sweets out of
it, avoiding the big investment in cocoa processing machines that would
otherwise be necessary.
According to some supply chain analysis, we
could add the Middlestream activities
which concern the beans commercialization both at the national and
international levels, involving wholesalers and traders.
This categorization will be useful to
describe and localize the different activities along the chain. Skipping the
technical analysis of the cropping management, in the next paragraph we will
following the chain starting with the harvest.
When the harvesting time comes, cocoa farmers
collect the ripe and healthy fruits with long handled knives, hooked sticks or
machetes and put them together in small stacks. In order to pick fruits at the
correct stage of ripening, recognizable by the change in colour, it is
recommended to harvest every 15 days. Cocoa pods are sometimes left in the
field for few days (pod storage), a practice which allow to assemble enough
fruits in order to break them all on the same day. Cocoa harvesting is a long
process that can last up to 3 months; however, it is important to avoid
exceeding three days of storage of collected fruits to prevent the germination of the beans which
would affect their quality. Farmers usually sit in couple on the opposite sides
of a fruits stack and start the break of the husk, “la quebra de las mazorcas”, how they call it in Spanish, in a
regular and continuous rhythm. One cuts the external husk with a machete or a
rock, the other opens the fruit, discards the husk and collects the wet cocoa
beans separating each bean with his fingers. In this stage, it is crucial not
to damage the beans while opening the fruit, since they would be likely harmed
by the fungus or insect affecting the quality of the harvest.
The wet beans are put
into timber boxes or heap into piles covered with mats or banana leaves, ready
for the fermentation process. Cocoa
beans naturally begin to ferment when they come into contact with the
micro-organisms present in the environment. These micro-organisms proliferate
decomposing the pulp around the beans which, in turn, sets off biochemical and
physical processes lasting three to seven days. We can distinguish two phases
in the fermentation process: anaerobic and aerobic. In the first one, with no
need of oxygen, yeasts start to process the mucilage sugars producing alcohol
and carbon dioxide (CO2) in 24 to 48 hours. In the second phase, the
temperature increases up to 45° C, yeasts decrease and acetic acid rises. Now
the oxygen plays a big role: it is crucial then to regularly move the beans in
order to guarantee that the beans get in contact with it uniformly. This
process is very complex and always slightly different in timing depending
on a long list of variables: from the
geographic area, weather and humidity, to the beans characteristics (like size,
fat and polyphenols content); from the conditions which depend on humans (like
the state of cleanliness of the fermentation boxes; the regularity in the beans
stirring), to some environment conditions (like the presence of extra yeast,
for example, in the banana leaves).
Formerly used to kill
the embryo and avoid its germination, it is today well-known that the
fermentation process is responsible for the development of the precursors of
aromas and flavours that will be present in the chocolate. This makes this
delicate stage extremely important for the production of good quality cocoa.
After a year of work in the plantation, despite the fact
this is just the beginning of the cocoa
transformation, something going wrong in this stage would permanently affect
the taste of the final product .
After the fermentation, the drying process takes place. During this
process the beans’ moisture content drops from about 60% to 6-7%. It is a
delicate phase and lasts for several days: it should occur slowly, to prevent
the development of bitter flavours, but not too slow, to avoid the emergence of
moulds and off flavours. The final moisture percentage is very important
because it determines the beans’ shelf life: with a humidity higher than 8%
mould can originate, below 5% the beans will become too dry and brittle. The
drying process relies on the air movement and can be done naturally, operated
by the sun, or artificially with the help of other heat sources, generally
fire. Sometimes the process is made by the combination of the two.
When the sun drying
option is selected, beans are spread out on a flat surface. In Africa, farmers
use mostly mats, trays or directly the concrete floors; in the West Asia and South America, odourless wooden platforms are
more likely to be seen. Sometimes wooden floors are covered by moveable roofs
which protect the beans from the rain or from excessively strong sun in the
central hours of the day. The beans are normally turned or raked in order to
keep the beans separated and make them dry uniformly. Sun drying is used in
countries where harvesting occurs in a dry period, like West Africa or the West
Indies. In those countries where there is a lack of pronounced dry periods after
the harvesting time,a few alternatives
are used by farmers who can afford it. This is a problem faced by cocoa
producer countries in South America, South East Asia and sometimes in West
Africa. One option is the use of greenhouses where they can achieve very high
temperature and protect beans from the rain at the same time. Another option is
related to more structured driers like a convection one: “the simplest forms of
artificial driers which consists of a simple flue in a plenum chamber and a permeable
drying platform above. Air inlets must be provided in order to allow the
convection current to flow without allowing smoke to taint the beans”.
Slightly different artificial driers have been developed in different regions
but, in general, the most important requirement for a cocoa drier to be good is
to avoid the beans contamination from the smoke produced and prevent a too fast
process (which would results a high acidity in the cocoa flavour). The weather
itself, in terms of temperature and relative humidity, strongly affects the
timing: the drying process normally takes about 5 to 7 days with adequate
sunshine and little rainfall, but much longer if the weather is dull.
Unfortunately, in certain regions it is
quite common to see cocoa beans drying in patios, on the soil, in the same area
where animals are free to walk and graze. Cocoa beans, rich in fat, absorb
odours very easily, so it is of paramount importance to provide a clean
environment free from bad odour and animals (sadly, this is a fact that farmers
are not always aware of).The primary processing activities are extremely
important to obtain a good flavour profile and guarantee the cocoa conservation
and transportation. Without them, in fact, beans would be too acidic and sour
to make chocolate out of them. Moreover, if properly dried, cocoa beans can be
stored in bags for months, provided the necessary environment: a fresh and cool
place, and a controlled relative humidity of 60-70%.
Dried cocoa is then
brought into designed warehouses in the biggest town near the plantation to be
sold. Some of it will stay in local market whereas the majority will be bought
by wholesalers, traders or directly by big multinational companies. The last
step before the start of secondary processing is the selection process.
Fermentation degree, moisture content, number of defects and broken beans,
mouldiness, beans size, colour and flavour are some of the evaluated variables
necessary to determine the beans quality. Imperative is the “cut test”, the
evaluation process in which a sample of beans is cut lengthwise to infer about
its internal coloration and the percentage of defective beans (mouldy, slaty,
insect damaged, germinated or flat). These characteristics are related to the
chemical composition of the bean and derive from the fermentation and drying
process, determining the quality of the beans and their price.
Once selected and
divided into categories according with their quality, beans undergo the secondary processing phase. At the very
end of this phase cocoa will be turned into chocolate, the main commercialized
product obtained by cocoa beans, but not the only one. The cocoa bean can in
fact be divided into two components, each of which represents roughly half of
the weight (depending on the variety): the fat and the dry cocoa solids. The
first is the cocoa butter and is the most expensive beans component. It is used
in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry or bought by chocolate manufacturer
companies to be used as an ingredient. After the extraction of the butter, the
dry cocoa solids are gradually refined until cocoa powder is produced. It is a
fundamental ingredient in the confectionary industry, used for liquid drinks or
sold to the final consumer. We will analyse the cocoa processing activities to
make clear when and how these different products are produced. They can be made
in many different ways, in industrial or artisanal methods, but the necessary
steps are generally the same.
Before everything else, the receiving processing factory carries out a cleaning process in order to eliminate any contaminations such as rocks, nails or wood. It could look weird, but it is very usual to find an interesting mix of extraneous materials among the cocoa beans which, if anything, makes that cocoa bag heavier.
A disinfection process also is necessary to make the beans completely clean and safe. Through a high temperature steam any microbial activity on the bean stops and they are ready for the roasting. In this process the cocoa beans are exposed to high temperatures with a variety of schedules in terms of timing and temperature. Often, though this is not the rule, people responsible to tailoring the ad hoc “recipe” for each received stock carry out an initial beans tasting, in order to obtain the best result according with the specific beans’ characteristics. After the fermentation, the roasting is the second crucial step for the beans to develop their potential flavours and aromas. During this process, in fact, the aroma precursors arisen during the fermentation change chemical and physical structure giving the way to the aromatic compounds that will remain in the cocoa until the final product.
Then, the cocoa
beans are broken and grinded through
a mechanical process and they are now called “nibs”. During this phase, the
“testa” or “tegument”, which is a subtle shell which naturally covers the
beans, comes off once the beans are broken down. The bean’s shell is much
lighter than the nibs and is mechanically sucked. This process is called winnowing and is necessary since the
shell is the part where harmful pathogens or heavy metal like cadmium are
stocked. Moreover, it is suggested to remove the testa also for tasting
reasons: it gives extreme astringency to the chocolate.
There is an additional process undertaken only in processing factories which handle a large amount of beans. It is called alkalinisation or Dutching process, since it has been developed in the 19th century in Holland by Van Houten, and entails a chemical treatment of the cocoa nibs with potassium carbonate to develop flavour and colour.
In fact, by raising the pH, it reduces the acidity and sourness of the beans, increasing the solubility and dispersibility of cocoa in water (a key feature in chocolate beverage). Moreover, having discovered that the consumers are influenced by the cocoa colour in their purchasing preferences, big processing companies differentiate the treatment in order to obtain different colour from the same cocoa beans. Through this process they are able to make a darker/black powder to gradually lighter/brown ones, depending on the final product they are intended for. Needless to say, it strongly affects cocoa natural flavour and characteristics, deleting all its aromas. This means that this process offers the opportunity to cover all the defects and off-flavours of low quality beans generally used by big companies to produce chocolate mass products.
Alkalinised or not,
the nibs are then refined, and their
size is progressively reduced until each particle is so small to be imperceptible
on the palate. Our mouth is able to perceive
particles bigger than 30 microns, so usually cocoa is refined in order to be
smaller than that, measuring on average around 25 microns. However, this is not
a rule; the particles size varies a lot depending on the chocolate makers
choice and the desired result. Moreover, the quantity of cocoa butter
strongly affects the mouthfeel, defined as the way a food or drink feels in the
mouth, as distinct from its taste. The refining process can be carried out with
different machines: in artisanal factories melangeur or ball mills are mostly
used, whereas in bigger industries cocoa nibs travel through a series of roll
refiners. Through this machine, because of the friction between the cocoa
particles and the machine components in constant motion, the fat present in the
beans warms up. The temperature raises and the warm compound gets increasingly
similar to the chocolate texture. When it reaches a smooth and homogeneous
consistency, it is called “liquor” or “cocoa mass”, but it is not yet
chocolate.To be called chocolate in fact it must contain at least 1% of sugar,
while the cocoa mass is still 100% cocoa.
At this point, different procedures can be
undertaken depending on which product need to be produced. Cocoa butter can be
now extracted by pressing the liquor, obtaining a solid mass called cocoa
presscake with the remaining part of the cocoa beans. Cocoa powder is produced
breaking the presscake, and industrially refining its pieces. Finally, adding
sugar and other ingredients in the refining machine, we will obtain chocolate.
At this point, the
list of ingredients necessary to make
chocolate should be considered. As
mentioned before, all you need to make chocolate is cocoa beans and sugar.
Everything else is added by chocolate makers with special purpose in mind.
Generally, cocoa butter in variable proportion is added to make the chocolate
richer and shiner, improving also its meltiness. Powdered milk is added to
obtain milk chocolate (whereas to make white chocolate it is an entirely
different process). The
list of ingredients could stop here; especially if the beans are of good
quality, chocolate makers do not want to cover the natural cocoa flavours.
Often, among the ingredients we can find natural vanilla aroma, a natural aroma
that combines well with cocoa, and soya lecithin, which helps sugar and fat to
emulsify and mix harmonically. When
other ingredients are added, it is worth to wonder why; it is often the way to
cover cocoa off-flavours and defects.
Once all the
ingredients are properly mixed, chocolate just needs time to get to the desired
consistency moving and turning in the refining machine. According to the
chocolate characteristics, sometimes chocolate undertakes an additional step in
a machine called “conche”. Invented in the 1880 by the chocolate maker Rudolphe
Lindt, the conching machine
contributes to correct chocolate flavour and affects its final texture. By
agitating chocolate at more than 50◦C for few hours,
the continuous mixing movement allows volatile undesirable compounds such as
acetic acid to get dispersed and promotes flavour development, reducing the
viscosity by further refining the particles. On the other side, if the conching
is crucial to get rid of undesirable volatile elements, too much time spent in
the conche could result in the loss of other positive aromatic notes. The
speed, duration and temperature of the conching affect the chocolate taste and
need to be adjusted according to the cocoa beans characteristics.
Now the chocolate is ready, but it is still
hot and in a liquid state. Unfortunately, the way it solidifies is not
negligible and only the chocolate solidified in a certain “shape” will be
considered well done. The method that makes this possible is called tempering, which affect in particular
the cocoa butter behaviour.
The fat contained in
the beans can crystallise in a number of polymorphic forms, precisely six, each
of which has different characteristics. The 5th form is the most
stable and the only one able to give the chocolate those characteristics that
determine a good quality bar. Good quality chocolate has a shiny, uniform
aspect, and a distinctive sharp sound when the it is broken – the so-called
“snap”. It is a stable product – harder and more heat-resistant- with a longer
shelf-life and prevents the fat bloom
phenomenon, the appearance of a white patina on the chocolate surface caused
precisely by the cocoa butter migration.
Finally, a well-tempered chocolate will melt in the mouth in the most
harmonious way providing the best tasting experience.
process, then, guarantees a stable cocoa butter crystallization at its 5th
form and can be done in several ways. Generally, it is carried out by a
series of controlled thermal shocks. Once the chocolate is tempered, avoiding
any further change in temperature, it is usually poured in moulds and let cool
down through a refrigerated tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, the solid
chocolate is taken out from the mould and ready to be packed.
At this point, chocolate will start a
journey through ways of transport and shop shelves, ending in the consumer’
hands. During all this time, it is of paramount importance to prevent any
further thermal shock: if a sudden temperature change wider than 10°C occurs or
the temperature exceed 12°-16°C (the suggested conservation range temperature)
it will be necessary to re-temper the chocolate again .
This was on overview of the long chain of
transformation processes which the great majority of cocoa bean produced in the
world undertakes. As you can see, within every single step there is a list of
variables that permanently affect the final result. On the other hand, there is
not a recognized set of rules describing the best practices, applicable
everywhere to handle every kind of cocoa, with no exception. In respect of the
raw material, every cocoa variety growing in every single area of the world
presents peculiar characteristics and needs. In the same way, within the
chocolate making process, every chocolate maker applies his own recipe, using
different timing, temperature and machines. It is incredible to think how many
different outcomes can be produced starting from the same cocoa beans.
The whole process is very complex, but it
is crucial to understand that the quality is determined in the plantation,
during the harvesting and the post-harvesting activities. Through the choice of
the ripe fruits, the fermentation and the drying process, farmers are
responsible of the cocoa quality and, consequently, of the final product.
Chocolate makers can emphasize the aroma precursors present in the beans and
produce the best chocolate according with the beans’ characteristics. They can
moderately correct or make smoother the presence of some little undesired
elements, but they will never able to change the taste. They cannot create high quality chocolate
without using high quality beans. This is something that escapes the mass
understanding, the average consumer does not think about the role of the
farmers when buying some chocolate. All the attention is focused on the art of
a specific chocolate producers or famous chocolatier.
Knowing the cocoa supply chain better , the
actors, and each of their role ,is definitely a way to better understand the
treat everybody loves. Making chocolate is an art the starts much earlier than
the laboratory where hands covered by white gloves work on it; it starts in the
plantation, on the trees, around palm leaves and under the sun. Being aware of
this gives us the power to understand the quality of chocolate products we
consume and to give them the right value.
 The action of scooping the
pods out in order to collect the wet seeds (enclosed in the pulp)
 Cocoa beans are called wet
when they are still surrounded by the pulp or mucilage, before the drying
 In some places, as we saw in
the Bolivian region of Beni, it is common to ferment beans inside a hanging
bag, the so-called “fermentacion en sacos”. It is recognized that this is not
the best practice since in this way only a small quantity of beans can be
properly fermented, and it is not possible to turn the beans, crucial practise
which keeps the grade of fermentation uniform among the beans.
 Not only the quantity of cocoa
butter differs in different varieties, but also it is added in variable amount
by chocolate makers/chocolatiers according to their preferences.
 the term “white chocolate” designed the product obtained from cocoa
butter, milk or milk products and sugars. it does not contain any cocoa solids.
 Beckett (2000) ST Beckett. The science of chocolate,
The Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge (2000)
 Moreover, from a more
technical point of view, it is easier to work with well-tempered chocolate
since, once poured in the mould and cooled down, it shrinks. This means that it
is easier to take it out of it and proceed with the packaging.
“Agroforestry” is defined as a land use
system in which woody species (trees or shrubs) are grown intentionally in
combination with agricultural crops or cattle on the same land, either
simultaneously or in sequence.
Emerged during the Green Revolution, this system has been considered a
sustainable method, especially in the tropical area, given its similarity to
the primary forest structure. Since
the 1980s it has been developed by learning from traditional indigenous systems
to work more closely with the fertility of marginal lands through the use of
less intensive cultivation and fallow periods.
Cocoa is historically native of the
rainforest in the upper Amazonian region; recent studies prove that its
consumption in this area dates back to even more than 5,000 years ago.
Naturally then, cocoa trees grew deep in the forest in combination with other
species, developing reciprocal beneficial relations. In particular, cocoa not
only tolerates the presence of other plants, but also profits from them. The cocoa tree takes advantage of both, the
shade guaranteed by the forest canopy during its early stage and productive
phase, and from a more nutrient rich soil structure.
European colonialists introduced cocoa in Africa in the 19th
century, they implement a different cropping system: the full sun plantations. This monoculture system, where trees grow in
rows with no shade nor interaction with other plants, gradually replaced the
agroforestry system given the higher yield provided. The increase in
productivity is undeniable, but the literature seems to agree that it is only a
short-term increase. As trees age beyond 15–20 years, cacao yields decrease due
a series of factors determined by this system. In the long-term, in fact, the
direct sunlight physiologically stresses the cacao trees, making them more
susceptible to pests and diseases. In a monoculture, trees growing close
together are usually clones, genetically identical duplicate of a mother plant
originated from its asexual reproduction. The idea is to have more uniform
plants and, therefore, fruits; but it also means that the plants react in the
same way to bugs, bacteria or other external attacks increasing the probability
of a rapid contamination in the whole plantation. Finally, the soil quality
degrades, easily depleted of nutrients, requiring costly fertilizers to
drastic reduction in production often results in the abandonment of plantations
and the shift of the agricultural frontier towards the surrounding forests.
This means that applications of full sun cultivation system have resulted, and still do, in a constant
deforestation and rain forest degradation process. For example, in the
Guinean rainforest of West Africa, an area extending from Guinea to
Cameroon, identified as a global biodiversity hotspot, cocoa is the most
widespread crop and full-sun system is currently the most used cocoa
cultivation. Farms usually follow a
model referred to as short-term “boom-and-bust cycles”. Primary or secondary
forests are selectively cleared by burning, and cocoa is planted along
with understory food crops. When, after 20-25 years
of cropping, the production decreases significantly, plantations are
abandoned, and the centre of cocoa production typically moves to other areas. A
significant reduction of forest cover ranging from 1.2 to 2.2 million hectares
between 1955 and 1993 has been proven, coinciding with the strong increases in
cocoa and coffee production.
Farmers do not always move to other areas;
in some cases, they invest time and money to keep the old plantations
productive. However, it must be pointed out that, while the overaged tree
stocks can be rehabilitated by implementing various measures, problems such as
declining soil fertility, farmer poverty and climate change adaptation call for
more decisive solutions.
agroforestry system, on the other hand, is recognized as a powerful way to
benefit the plant health and quality itself providing ecologically sustainable
land use. It combines economic requirements with sociocultural and
agroforestry system, also called cabruca
system in Brazil, is an artificial imitation of a natural forest ecosystem
where cocoa grows with other fruit and timber trees providing shade and
affecting climate, humidity and soil. Besides the positive effects on the cocoa
plant in terms of beans quality, which has been proven to depend not only on
the cocoa genotype but also on the environmental conditions, this extensive
cultivation provides a number of ecosystem services.
It maintains the biodiversity of the flora
and the fauna, can re-establish part of the destroyed forest reserves and
protects the soil from the damage caused by sun, wind, and rain. It improves
the soil structure increasing the nutrients availability which then enhance
production. Finally, the protection and conservation of the forest is a crucial
point to help to mitigate climate change through the sequestration of carbon
from the air into soils and biomass.
economic point of view, the product diversification that agroforestry brings
with it improves farmers livelihood by differentiating their source of income,
and contributing to the family food security. Traditionally, in fact, cocoa is
grown with bananas, plantains, peach palms, yucca and other tuber fruits,
citrus fruits, vegetables, mango and other tropical local fruits as well as
cattle and timber. Cocoa provides two harvesting times every year, a major one
and a smaller one, which means that in a monoculture the family has no other
source of income for the rest of the year. The agroforestry system instead
allows farmers to have goods to sell all year around. Although this kind of
products generally generates modest cash incomes, it provides farmers for the
everyday livelihood at a low cash costs, extremely important especially in more
isolated areas. Often in remote villages every farmer produces a number of
vegetables and fruits along with cocoa and exchanges them all year around for
what is needed in the family. They do it within the village itself, making a
varied diet attainable with no need to go to the closest, likely distant,
market where they go when cash or other goods are necessary.
shade cocoa system generally uses little to no chemical inputs and is
considered a “naturally organic” system. This eco-friendly practice is part of
the indigenous culture: it is always been a habit rather than an aware choice.
Agrochemicals are not available where they live and would be an important cost
in the family balance. Nowadays farmers are generally more aware of the organic
cropping benefits for their health and the environment well-being;
nevertheless, it often happens that they are convinced by buyers to use
chemicals to enhance the yield with the promise of a higher income the
On the other hand, the intensive production system requires this kind of chemical input. Monocropping is generally associated with greater use of fertilizers, pesticides, modified soil tillage, and improved seeds in comparison with the traditional mixed crop systems. Moreover, findings highlight the potential of agroforestry to reconcile ecologically sustainable land use with natural, cost-effective pest management. Not only is the production organic, with positive effects on consumers, but it is the system itself that prevents diseases. Nonetheless, disease management activities are required: farmers need to regularly operate plants control and pruning. Surely, the use of agrochemicals makes the job easier for the farmers, but also puts the plants in a situation of dependence on chemicals input, with the negative effects on the soil health mentioned above.
Farmers using intensive production techniques rely on chemical inputs, while they are not always able to afford them. They use cocoa revenues to purchase the inputs for this intensive monocrop farming. Specifically, according to a recent report, farmers with intensive monocrop fields sell double the amount of cocoa than farmers using non-intensive agriculture, and the inputs they use cost 29 times the cost of inputs for non-intensified agriculture.
monoculture threatens cocoa biodiversity. As already mentioned at the
beginning, if a more uniform and consistent yield fulfils the commercial need
for a mass international market, it has a negative impact on the biodiversity
of a crop that can be extremely rich in variety. Instead of the more productive
and disease-resistant clones used in the full sun system, cocoa trees inside a
forest reproduce constantly, crossing their genotypes, and continuing to evolve
according to the biological laws of the specific geographical area.
In all, we are facing the trade-off between
the conservation of biodiversity, guaranteed by the agroforestry system, and
the economic benefits deriving from a more intensive use of land, the latter
encouraged by the demand for a growing volume of agricultural production by
large processing and manufacturing companies. Strictly speaking, this is the
trade-off between shorter-term economic maximization and long-term ecological sustainability.
short-term yields from increasing areas under cultivation in this monoculture
farming system have contributed to making whole countries rely on cocoa for
their economic development. Take, for example, Côte D’Ivoire, ranked now as the
top producer in the world. The negative consequences,
including biodiversity loss, soil fertility depletion, and
soil quality degradation are all apparent in there. These aspects have,
incredibly, received very little attention, considering the type and magnitude
of such agro-ecological consequences within the current context of climate
to provide a clearer idea of what was presented above, we compare the main
characteristics of the two system in the next table.
Lower productivity per hectare
Short-term higher productivity per
Naturally more disease-resistant plants
Plants are more susceptible to pests and
Cocoa variety preservation
Use of clones
Rainforest conservation/destroyed forest
reserves re-establishment, flora and fauna biodiversity, improved soil health
and climate change mitigation
loss, soil fertility depletion and soil quality degradation
Farmers differentiated income, food
Reliance on cocoa yields twice a year
Dependence on agrochemicals
economic, environmental, ecological, and health related analysis presented, a
final consideration is needed regarding the importance of the role that cocoa
plays in the culture and livelihood of indigenous producers. Cocoa, and the
agroforestry system in which it grows, are not only an agriculture system, but
the way of living of rainforest inhabitants. In their villages, this practise
has been the same since ancient times, and should not be changed to meet the international demand for higher production.
In the future a lot of efforts are
necessary in order to enhance cocoa quality, protect cocoa farmers and preserve
the rainforest. In particular, it is important to work towards two directions.
On one side: know-how and expertise on
sustainable agricultural practices, costs, and benefits need to be further
developed and made accessible to producers and consumers. Climate change is a
reality and if cocoa production is a mean to help mitigate it, everybody needs
to be informed and act accordingly.
other, all the efforts to put in place sustainable initiatives need to be
effectively communicated to consumers. When consumers buy chocolate at the
supermarket, they rarely know about the way cocoa is produced. Nothing or too
little about farmers and cropping system is communicated, and it is hard to
make an aware and informed purchase choice. On the contrary, transparency and
communication are the first step to build a trust relation between producers
and consumers, in order to give a fair value to products deriving from a
traditional, healthy and environment-friendly way of production.
 Montagnini, F., & Ashton,
M. S. (Eds.). (1999). The
Silvicultural Basis For Agroforestry Systems. CRC Press. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JGqjVR_gjbgC&pg=PA2&dq=MONTAGNINI+1992+agroforestry+system+definition&hl=it&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjWpK2g0qfjAhUjUBUIHbccCMcQ6AEILjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Smith, N. J., Falesi, I. C.,
Alvim, P. D. T., & Serrao, E. A. S. (1996). Agroforestry trajectories among
smallholders in the Brazilian Amazon: innovation and resiliency in pioneer and
older settled areas. Ecological economics, 18(1),
 Tondoh, J. E., Kouamé, F. N.
G., Guéi, A. M., Sey, B., Koné, A. W., & Gnessougou, N. (2015). Ecological
changes induced by full-sun cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire. Global Ecology and Conservation, 3, 575-595.
 Riedel, J., Kägi, N.,
Armengot, L., & Schneider, M. (2019). Effects of rehabilitation pruning and
agroforestry on cacao tree development and yield in an older full-sun
plantation. Experimental Agriculture,
 Franzen, M., & Mulder, M.
B. (2007). Ecological, economic and social perspectives on cocoa production
worldwide. Biodiversity and
 Tondoh, J. E., Kouamé, F. N.
G., Guéi, A. M., Sey, B., Koné, A. W., & Gnessougou, N. (2015). Ecological
changes induced by full-sun cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire. Global Ecology and Conservation, 3, 575-595. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989415000219
According to the Swedish Linnaeus’s nomenclature, cocoa
belongs to the family of the Malvaceae
and to the genus Theobroma, from the
Greek “food of the gods”. Theobroma Cacao is the species used to
make the well-known and beloved chocolate, but it is not the only species.
are other 22 known species assigned to the genus Theobroma. Among them, two species are cultivated or wild-harvested
on a relatively small scale for human consumption: Theobroma bicolor, also known as mocambo or pataste, and Theobroma grandiflorum, commonlycalled Cupuaçu.
Both native of the Amazon region, they are
nowadays spread in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Cupuaçu is the
species which has the largest fruit and is consumed the most in Brazil. The
pulp, particularly rich in flavour, is used to make juice or ice cream, whereas
the seeds can be used to make chocolate, known in Brazil as Cupulate. This product is commonly
commercialized in this country as a particular kind of chocolate, with its own
sensorial characteristics. Being rich in fat, it also has found applications in
the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
However, Theobroma cacao is the only species
widely cultivated with the biggest economic importance.
Traditionally, two main genetic groups have been defined
based on morphological features and geographical origins: “Criollo” and
“Forastero”. Criollo, from the Spanish “local”, is native of Latin America. It
is considered the best in terms of quality and flavour, is less productive and
more delicate. Its beans are white, very aromatic and low in bitterness.
Forastero, from the Spanish “stranger”, is the most common in Africa; it
represents the 85% of the world production, is highly productive and disease
resistant. Its beans are purple, characterised by a strong bitterness and a
less complex cocoa flavour. A third group, “Trinitario”,
has been recognized as a “Criollo”×“Forastero” hybrids, probably originated
in Trinidad. Furthermore, as a generalization, beans from Criollo or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties are
considered fine or flavour cocoa, while beans from Forastero trees bulk (or ordinary) cocoa.
If this is
the traditional, most popular classification, this is also a simplification of
the reality which takes focus away from the amazing diversity of cocoas. Cocoa is an outcrossing species and,
especially in wild individuals, plants carry out the action of
self-incompatibility mechanisms in
order to stimulate the development of the species (while the cultivated ones
are generally self-compatible). This means that every plant is potentially
different, and the species is constantly developing. The only way to know with
certainty the genotype of every single plant is undertaking a DNA analysis,
which is a long and costly process not accessible to cocoa farmers.
In 2010 a
research published by Juan C. Motamayor, Ph.D. in Plant Sciences and expert in
genetics and agronomy research, proposes a new classification of
cacao germplasm identifying 10 major clusters, or groups: Marañon, Curaray,
Criollo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Nacional and Guiana. This
new classification reflects more accurately the genetic diversity now available
for breeders, rather than the traditional 3 groups categorization of
Criollo-Forastero-Trinitario. Moreover, it is interesting to notice that the
highest genetic diversity was found in the Upper Amazon region, which is
universally considered the location of the putative centre of origin of Theobroma cacao.
A consideration regarding the term
“Criollo” need to be done here. Considering the cocoa tree natural outcrossing
mechanism on one side, and the human effort to develop more productive and resistant
varieties by artificially crossing the varieties on the other, it appears clear
how the pure criollo trees, already a minority, are less and less numerous. As
already mentioned, being the most delicate and less productive criollo variety
is the less attractive in a global market seeking quantity and uniformity. For
these reasons, it appears clear how those completely pure white beans
exceptionally aromatic consumed by the Maya and called Criollo are extremely
rare. They maybe still exist, but can be found only in remote areas, where
trees have no contact with other cocoa genotypes. The terms Criollo itself,
which nowadays too often is present on the packaging of chocolate bars on the
shelves, is used in a broader and generic sense, describing a local variety,
probably descending from the actual criollo of the area, resulting from years
of contaminations with other not-criollo varieties.
Cocoa tree is perennial. Evidences show that more than 100-years-old trees can still present vegetal development and fruit production. However, cultivated cocoa trees older than 30 years seem to show a decrease in production. It is considered good practice then to replace the old plant to keep the plantation as productive as possible; and this can be made through two methods. Farmers can plant new seedling (sexual reproduction) or revitalize the old trees through grafting (asexual reproduction). The first option is the longest one since the seedling (a 3-5 months young plant generally raised in the nursery) will take 3 to 5 years to be fully productive. As anticipated, cocoa reproduces through cross pollination, which means that each seed is the result of the mixing of the DNAs of two different plants. Reproducing cocoa trees through seeds or seedlings, then, does not allow farmers to control the new plant genotype and, therefore, the new plant and fruit characteristics. Grafting, instead, is a horticultural technique consisting in joining together parts of different plants by means of tissue regeneration. A young branch coming from a high-yielding plant (scion) is placed in contact with the lower part of an old and strong plant tissue (stock) in such a way that they will continue growing together. In this way, farmers purposefully choose the stock and the scion in order to obtain a productive, disease-resistant plant. The new plants will produce the exact copy of the fruits produced by the selected “parents” trees.
In addition, grafting is a time-saving option since the plant will be ready to produce in few months, compared to the necessary 3-5 years of the seedling. Since in the cocoa market the product consistency is a crucial feature, today the asexual reproduction is the most used method.
oblong, leathery and up to 30cm long. Their colour varies depending on the
variety, from pale green to rose/purple, and flowers and fruits grow directly
from the trunk. Cocoa trees bear fruit and flowers year-round, although for
cyclical weather reasons, two crops per year are generally identified: a main
one and a smaller one (whose time in the year varies depending on the
flowers are small and star shaped. They measure 1-2 cm in diameter and range in
colour from snow white to rosy pink, yellow and red. They emerge fast through
the bark of the tree and within less than 24 hours they are fully open and
ready to be pollinated. The pollination is carried out almost exclusively by
insect, tiny midges belonging to the family of Ceratopogonidae, genus
Forcipomya. The synchronicity between the flowering period and the peak in the
population development of adult Forcipomya allows cocoa plant reproduction. Is
it also possible to pollinate the flowers artificially, by hands. However,
through the pollinator Forcipomya cocoa plants were shown to be more productive. This is the reason why some agronomists
disapprove the use of agrochemicals, in particular insecticides.
Cocoa flowers stay open from late afternoon to the early hours in the morning, ready to be pollinated. Nevertheless, out of more than the 100.000 flowers an adult plant can produce, only 5% are going to be fertilized and around 0,1% will develop in a fruit. If not pollinated and fertilised during this period of time, they will fall the day after; otherwise the embryo and ovule will start to grow. The pods reach the maximum size after about 75 days and will then mature for another 65 days, making a total of about 140 days after pollination.
In general, it is estimated that it takes 4 to 6 months before a fertilized flower becomes a ripe pod, the cocoa fruit. Big and elongated like a football, or small and lemon-sized, cacao pods can vary a lot in shape and colour. From brilliant green to yellow, red, crimson and purple, they present numerous ridges running along its length, more or less pronounced depending on the genotype.
When you open a cocoa pod, you will find typically around
40 beans arranged around the long axis of the pod. They are embedded by a
thick, mucilaginous white pulp. It is believed that it is the pulp what first
attracted animals and humans to the tree, but you would be surprised to discover that its taste has nothing to do
with chocolate. It has a sweet and sour taste, similar to some other tropical
fruits, jackfruit to mention an example. In some countries the pulp is employed
to prepare juice, liquor, beverages, ice cream, and jam but, rich in sugar, it
is an irreplaceable ingredient for the fermentation process. This process is
the first step of a long series of physical and chemical changes which will
transform cocoa in chocolate. Interesting to know, fermenting separately a part
of the pulp some people also produce vinegar!
The beans, each about
the size of an almond, can be ellipsoid or oval-shaped. Inside each of them you
will see the embryo (the precursor tissue of the new plant), which is made of 2
cotyledons, whose colour can vary from white to purple.
Naturally, the cocoa tree can reach 12-15m; it is rare but
still possible to find trees in their full, considerable height in some remote
places, when it grows wild and untouched by humans. However, when it is
cultivated or managed by farmers, it is kept between 3 and 5m of height. By
regularly pruning cocoa trees, farmers enhance the plant productivity and
ensure an easier harvesting. Standing on the ground, farmers use 3-4m long
sticks ending with a hook to cut the ripe fruits from the trees.
Where trees are not
pruned, cocoa collectors alone cannot reach the fruits. They climb a 4 to 5m
high ladder, sometimes tied up to the tree with a cord for security, and, once
on the top of it, they cut the fruits off with the same stick, usually a bit
Fascinating practice, but also dangerous and physical at the same time.
In a cocoa plantation, where farmers work to keep the plants healthy and productive, a number of tasks are required. Constant weeding and disease control are of paramount importance and soil management activities are vital to ensure the necessary nutrients availability. We already mention the pruning and we can distinguish here 3 kinds of it, according to the tree age and condition.
Especially in a young stage, cocoa tree needs to receive a regular shape pruning in order to guarantee the development of no more than 3 main branches, according to the available space and light. Afterwards farmers carry out a maintenance pruning and a rehabilitation one when the plants have not been pruned for long time or are affected by diseases or fungus.
The cacao tree is extraordinarily
sensitive, known to botanists as the “prima donna” (“first lady” in Italian) of
the plant world. It
grows best in low-lying areas, up to a maximum of about 1000 m, although most
of the world’s cocoa grows at an altitude of less than 300 m above the sea
level. It requires rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year, with a
range between 1000 and 4000 mm per year, but preferably between 1500 and 2500
prefers high temperature, generally within 18–32◦C with 70–80% of humidity
during the day and 90–100% at night. Because of its shallow root system, cocoa
need protection against strong winds and storms that can damage the pods or the
whole tree. This
is the reason why, especially in the early stages, they best grow surrounded by
other species of higher trees which provide shelter and shade. The soil
requirements for the tree are also very specific: it tolerates both acid or
alkaline soil but excessive acidity (pH≤4) or alkalinity (pH≥8) must be
avoided. A high content of organic matter and the presence of nitrogen and
phosphorus are necessary, otherwise nutritional problems are likely.
Because of these and other climate needs, especially related to humidity and
rainfalls, cocoa trees grow exclusively in a very narrow geographic band near
the equator between 20°N and 20°S. You can find cocoa trees in three different
continents: Latin America, the native land of cocoa, Africa and Asia.
mentioned above, cocoa plant is a delicate crop and a long list of harmful
fungus and diseases poses a constant threat to the crop. The so-called witches’broom disease (originated by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa) has devastated cocoa production in
South America, Panama and Caribbean. Slow through the forest, it spreads
extremely quickly in plantation. The most affected area has been the region of
Bahia, in Brazil, where in the ‘90s it caused losses of up to 70 percent of
production during a period of 10 years. Frosty
Pod Rot (caused by the fungus
Moniliophthora roreri)is spread
mainly in all north-western countries in South America, triggering significant
losses in production and even the abandonment of cocoa farms. Pod Rot, also known as Black Pod (caused by the fungus Phytophthora spp), develops rapidly on
the pods under conditions of excessive rain and humidity. It generates
global yield loss of 20-30% and tree deaths of 10% annually in both Africa and
Latin America. Pests are also brought to cocoa trees by insects, like Cocoa Pod
Borer (CPB), also known as Cocoa Moth
(spread in Indonesia mainly) and mirids
whose damage alone, if left not treated for three years, can reduce yields by
as much as 75%. These are just some example of vulnerabilities which can destroy
the entire cocoa production of a country if not quickly contained. To that, you
can add monkeys, parrots, woodpeckers
and other animals which, not surprisingly, love cocoa too.
This overview provides a general idea of
the complexity of the cocoa production process. After that, through a long
chain of transformation activities, chocolate will be ready to be consumed.
Chocolate is a treat unrolled in golden paper; this makes it difficult to
remember that cocoa is a seed, and chocolate is an agriculture product. As any
other agriculture product, then, it is sensitive to many variables like
weather, environment and human management. Exactly like wine. In the wine
market, though, it is well-known that the origin, the fruit varieties, the
climate condition of the year of production, the way the transformation process
is carried out, the timing pattern followed during processing process,
distribution and consumption, the way the wine is stocked etc. are all
variables of massive importance which deeply affect the final product.
Chocolate is not yet considered in the same way; the mass diffusion of the
conventional cocoa in the market produced the habit to categorize chocolate
only in 3 main products: dark, milk or white. This seems a quite
simplistic/reductive vision. The three of them come from the same raw materials
(the colour of the final product does not depend on the raw material, as
happens with wine). Moreover, customers expect to find always exactly the same
taste in a chocolate bar, every year, every bar, always. They forget to
consider the incredible cocoa varieties, and the number of variables and
conditions that hugely affect the cocoa and the chocolate produced with it
What is lacking in the world of chocolate
is the contact with its origins. The awareness, knowledge, even culture which
connects and explains a chocolate bar through its varieties, its origin and its
particular transformation process. It is a long and complex consciousness
process, already happening, which will make consumers appreciate a chocolate
bar in the same way they taste and savour a bottle of wine.
Self-incompatibility is a
widespread outcrossing system present in roughly half of
the flowering plant species. Many hermaphroditic plants utilize this
self-/non–self-recognition system as a mechanism to maintain genetic
diversity within a population by rejecting self-pollen at the stigma
surface (Hiscock et al., 1999; Hiscock and Tabah, 2003; Kusaba
et al., 2001).
 Motamayor, J. C.,
Lachenaud, P., da Silva E Mota, J. W., Loor, R., Kuhn, D. N., Brown, J. S.,
& Schnell, R. J. (2008). Geographic and genetic population differentiation of the Amazonian
chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao L). PloS
one, 3(10), e3311.
 Ministère de l’agriculture,
élevage de bétail et approvisionnement, CEPLAC. Implantation De la culture du cacao dans des systèmes agroforestriers.
 Forbes, S. J. and Northfield,
T. D. (2017), Increased pollinator habitat enhances cacao fruit set and
predator conservation. Ecol Appl, 27: 887-899. doi:10.1002/eap.1491
Brenner G.1999, Inside the
secret worlds of Mars and Hershey.
 We had the chance to visit a
cocoa forest during the harvesting period in the Bolivian region of Beni.
There, people leaving in Camiaco and the nearby communities harvest fruits once
a year, leaving the trees completely untouched for the rest of the time.
 Brenner G.1999, Inside the
secret worlds of Mars and Hershey
 Afoakwa, E. O. (2010). Chocolate science and technology.
 The protection is generally
provided by other higher and stronger trees that naturally grow in the
rainforest together with the cocoa trees.
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