Premium chocolatiers take note: Colombia to renew high-quality cocoa plantations

'An aggressive plant to renovate 80,000 hectares of poorly productive cocoa fields is the key to improve the economic prospects of Colombian cocoa producers and the sector as a whole': Fedecacao national technical supervisor Yardley Cano

Higher cocoa prices in the international market could kick-start Colombia’s plans to replant up to 80,000 ha of its cocoa bean acreage.

The national government hopes to capitalize on demand for high-quality cocoa from the domestic chocolate companies and international buyers. 

Colombia’s agriculture and rural development minister, Rubén Darío Lizarralde, and the executive president of the National Federation of Cocoa Growers (Fedecacao), Eduard Baquero López, held talks last month on possible state financing of a program to renovate aging cocoa plantations with funds previously earmarked for cocoa price subsidies.

Colombia’s production zones have a privileged geographic position for cultivating Fino de Aroma cocoa. The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) recognizes Colombia as a country that exports 100% of Fino de Aroma cocoa, which is described as a cocoa with exquisite aroma and taste,” Ivan Delgado, an agri-industry investment specialist from Colombia’s foreign investment and exports promotions agency Proexport, told ConfectioneryNews.

Expanded cocoa production is expected to benefit leading chocolate industries headquartered in Colombia, such as CasaLuker, which specializes in the processing of products made from Fino de Aroma (fine flavor) cocoa.

CasaLuker – a key exporter of Fino de Aroma cocoa

CasaLuker is a family-owned company that specializes in the production and sales of products derived from Fino de Aroma cocoa. Today, we purchase around 35% of the cocoa production in Colombia. Hence... we are committed to the improvement in the quality of cocoa and the development of agricultural production,” CasaLuker’s brand manager Mariana Arensburg Uribe told ConfectioneryNews.

We hope cocoa production in Colombia will continue rising in the coming years. This will be mainly the result of several converging factors: more planting (and harvesting) of the crop, entry into production of new cocoa plantations, improved farming practices and better business management by private enterprises such as CasaLuker,” said Uribe.

Today, CasaLuker is the principal Colombian exporter of cocoa-derived products with a 31.6% share (7,712 metric tons in 2013) of the export market, occupying first place in exports of cocoa beans (4,528 MT), cocoa paste (830 MT), cocoa butter (1,165 MT) and sugar-less cocoa powder (415 MT). “Our principal clients for cocoa-derived products – excluding cocoa beans – are: Argentina, USA, Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, UK and Mexico,” said the company.   

76% of the world’s fine quality cocoa is produced in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Only 7% of global cocoa is of the same high quality while remainder is known as bulk-type cocoa.

CasaLuker, as one of the largest buyers of Fino de Aroma cocoa in the world, guarantees to its customers that CasaLuker chocolate couvertures and cocoa-derived products are made with Criollo and Trinitarian cocoa beans that are distinguished by their fruity and flowery flavor with nutty malt notes, said the firm.

All of Colombia’s cocoa belongs to the Fino de Aroma category according to the ICCO, while 75% of cocoa production in Ecuador belongs to the Fino de Aroma cocoa category, which gives [Colombia] a significant advantage. In terms of volume, Ecuador produces four times more than is produced by Colombia,” Uribe explained, adding that the Colombian market is of paramount significance for CasaLuker.

Quantity, as important as quality

Clearly, Colombia’s chief challenge today is not cocoa quality but quantity and the major stakeholders in the country’s cocoa sector are keen to boost production volumes at a time when global demand is booming. “We need to be more productive and competitive, which can be achieved with programs such as the renewal of old cocoa plantations with clones that will permit yields of around 1,000 kg per hectare, in addition to being tolerant to pests and diseases,” said Fedecacao’s Baquero López, in an opinion piece for the latest issue of Fedecacao’s in-house publication Colombia Cacaotera.

Colombia’s cocoa production has been on the rise since 2005 when cocoa growers in the country cultivated 96,000 hectares of the crop with a total production of 17,000 MT. Today, almost ten years later, Colombian growers cultivate the cocoa plant on 152,000 hectares with an average yield of 420 kg per hectare, according to Fedecacao data. The organization expects that growers will harvest 50,000 MT of cocoa in 2014, up from last year’s cocoa harvest of 47,000 MT.

 Plans to replant 80,000 hectares

An aggressive plan to renovate 80,000 hectares of poorly productive cocoa fields is the key to improve the economic prospects of Colombian cocoa producers and the sector as a whole,” said Fedecacao national technical supervisor Yardley Cano.

The plan would involve those plantations that have a very low productivity of below 350 kg per hectare because such plantations consist of plants in an advanced age (older than 30 years) and/or are susceptible to diseases and pests. The program, which involves the Colombian departments of Santander, North Santander, Narino, Tolima, Huila, Antioquia and Meta, could help the country boost dry cocoa bean exports from 7,900 MT to 138,450 MT.

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