I visited a small association of 200 members, which was set up a couple of years ago by a small group of cacao farmers in the area of Tocache. Each member has approximately two hectares of cacao, and produce on average 1,500 kg of cacao per year per hectare thanks to the fertile soils of this particular area.
As I speak to the manager of the association, I quickly understand the advantages of forming an association. By forming an association, the cacao producers are in a stronger position to meet the high expectations of buyers, in both quantity and quality for the supply of cacao. They are also in a stronger position to receive governmental financial support and the technological know-how needed to produce quality beans. From a supply point of view it also means that chocolate manufacturers can track the sourcing of the beans and be assured that the post-harvest process has been controlled, right from the fermentation to the drying of the beans.
During the harvest, which occurs twice a year from April to June and October to November, the cacao is collected directly from the farmers, otherwise known as “acopiar”. Once all the beans are collected from the farmers in their raw format or “en baba” as they call it, the beans are brought to the association’s central facilities where they are fermented, dried and sampled, ready to be shipped to the other side of the world.
The Association’s post harvest process is very well structured, it is the perfect place to learn how cacao needs to be processed following its harvest. As I am shown round the association’s post-harvest facilities, I notice how the beans are clearly separated according to their certification labels. Most of the certifications that I have come across when buying food products in Europe, whether it be UTZ Certified, Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance, promote in some way the ethical and sustainable side of the cacao supply chain.
It is interesting to see how the certification process works at this end of the chain. As I discuss the certification process with the manager, it is clear that from a producer point of view, developing certified cacao helps them to be more competitive in the market place and ensures a stronger distribution network. Certified beans have a slightly higher sell price to ordinary conventional cacao (otherwise known as “cacao convencional”), approximately $100 to $200 more per ton of cacao – depending on the certification.
However for all the work that is put in place to obtain the certification labels, I am surprised to see that the farmer only obtains 15 or 20 cents more for each kilo of dried beans. Moreover in order for the association to obtain the certifications, they have to pay a substantial fee, at last more than 10,000 US dollars per year to the certification company or to an external organisation to fulfill the requirements and complex processes that each of the cacao producers need to accomplish in order to obtain the certifications. I quickly see how hard it is for a small cacao farmer to meet the demanding necessities of the export market. As I ask the cacao farmers what the differences are between between each of the certifications, I am surprised that the farmers don’t really understand what each certification means aside that they receive a slightly better price for their bean and that the buyer requests it.
From a farmers’ point of view, it feels as if the main reason for having certified beans is because the export market demands it, and without the certifications it would be harder for them to sell their cacao. Very different to the marketing spiel that we are receiving back at home!