In April 2012, I decided to go to Peru and subsequently Ecuador to learn and understand as much as possible about the cultivation and processing of quality cocoa for the making of fine chocolate. I decided to take this time off to get to the heart of chocolate and understand what is happening on the other side of the world in countries that are Latin America’s leading producers of cocoa beans. Through my travels and work experience in different cooperatives, I discovered the challenges that producing countries face in the sustainable development of cocoa farming.
Peru is the world’s thirteenth largest exporter of cocoa beans and the second largest producer of organic cocoa. Thanks to international funding, cocoa production is growing fast, replacing the illegal cultivation of coca. Peru grows some of the finest cacao, including the Trinitario, Amazon Forastero and Criollo varieties. It has a great genetic diversity of varieties.
Ecuador has long been known as the world’s largest producer of fine-aroma cocoa. During the late 19th century, it was the world’s largest cocoa exporter. Chronicles dating back to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores on the Pacific coast describe their astonishment at seeing gigantic cacao trees cultivated by the inhabitants of the Ecuadorean coastal areas.
For the first part of my trip I worked for a consortium of four cocoa cooperatives based in the region of San Martin. While they taught me all about cocoa production and enabled me to enter the world of cocoa cooperatives, I helped them on the marketing strategy of their chocolate brands, Amazona Chocolate, made with the very beans from the cocoa cooperatives; Acopagro, Tocache, La Divisoria and Oro Verde.
During the second part of my trip, I spent time in cooperatives in other parts of Peru, where a range of different cocoa varieties are produced. This enabled me to learn about different cocoa varieties and best agricultural practices for the processing of high quality beans.
Some of Peru’s finest cocoa plantations are located in the northern tip of Peru, in an area called Piura. The cooperative that I visited are located in the areas marked with stars. I spent time in each cooperative to learn about the local cocoa communities, their cocoa varieties, and cultivation techniques.
By immersing myself in the world of cocoa in Peru and subsequently working in the cocoa research department of the Ecuadorean government’s agricultural research institute, INIAP, I gained a full understanding of the complex supply chain from cocoa bean to chocolate bar, and the challenges facing producing countries like Peru and Ecuador of developing quality beans for the export market while enabling farmers to make a sustainable livelihood out of cocoa farming.
This experience equips me well for pursuing my professional ambitions to deliver sustainability programs for cocoa producers and chocolate manufacturers. My language skills – I speak fluent French, Spanish and Portuguese – are perfect for forging strong relationships with cacao producing countries.
Since my return from the cocoa trail in Peru and Ecuador, I have worked on a number of projects and roles. I worked for Valrhona supporting them with their Corporate Social Responsibility Communications, during which I organized a media trip to their cocoa plantations in the Dominican Republic — I did a Masters in International development and Agriculture at the University of Reading, and as part of my thesis I went to Ghana to examine how private and public sector intervention schemes are addressing sustainability issues in Ghana’s cocoa supply chain — and most recently I worked as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organsiaton of the United Nations, developing one of their most prominent partnerships with Google, bringing in Google Earth Engine technology to FAO’s environmental and climate change programs.