The nonprofit organization recently obtained a $500,000 grant from the Pathways to Prosperity Innovation Challenge to help Central American cocoa farmers. Several other initiatives from national governments are also underway to boost the region’s cocoa quality and quantity.
Up and coming origins
Speaking to ConfectioneryNews, Jennifer Wiegel, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) regional representative for Central America and Haiti, said that the combined actions would lead to premium chocolate prospects for manufacturers.
“For the chocolate industry, the long term message from here would be: Watch out for Central America. There will be higher volumes of quality cocoa coming out of the region.”
“There’s a new origin up and coming – see if you want to get into it.”
LWR intends to use its grant money to digitalize its Cocoa Toolkit so that it could be used by extension workers on smart phones to train around 4,000 farmers on best practices.
LWR is already working in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, but the grant allows it to also help farmers in Costa Rica and Guatemala.
“The cocoa sector in the region is very underdeveloped,” said Wiegel. “The real challenge is quality and having enough volumes.”
According to Wiegel, demand for Central American cocoa is currently greater than supply. She said the main problem was that cocoa had conventionally been sold as washed unfermented cocoa for use in domestically produced cocoa-based drinks.
LWR plans to teach farmers to ferment their cocoa beans for use in chocolate and will help fetch a premium for their fine flavor produce.
Which firms source from Central America?
German firm Ritter Sport currently sources a small percentage of its cocoa from smallholder farmers in Nicaragua. The company recently announced that it would eventually source 30% of its supply from the country after buying 2,500 hectares of land for its own Nicaraguan cocoa plantation.
Swiss firm Chocolats Halba began a project to build up the Honduran cocoa industry in 2008, which at the time was practically non existent after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Processing capacity has also risen in the region after Chocolate del Caribe acquired an abandoned cocoa processing plant in Honduras in late 2013, which is now operational.
National initiatives to boost supply
There are also a number of initiatives backed by national governments aiming to increase the supply across Central America.
In April, the US, Mexican and El Salvadorian governments partnered to generate 8,000 metric tons (MT) of cocoa in El Salvador under a $50 million, five-year initiative.
El Salvador currently has so little cocoa production that it is not listed by the International Cocoa Organization. However, it estimates that the country exports between one and two MT.
Earlier this year Switzerland launched a $12m five-year to boost cocoa production in Nicaragua and Honduras. The cocoa crop for both of those countries combined represents 0.1% of the world cocoa supply, which is heavily concentrated in West Africa.
Wiegel added that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also fund a $12m project in Nicaragua to support 3,350 cocoa farmers on the eastern side of the country between 2014 and 2019.
She noted that any shift in Central American yields would take time. The priority for now was to standardize quality farming practices in the region that will lead to a higher volumes in the long-term, she said.