There are approximately five to six million cocoa farmers worldwide and more than 20 million people whose livelihood directly depends on cocoa. Unlike industrialized crops, 80-90% of cocoa comes from small, family-run farms with under 5 hectares of land. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, people around the world enjoy cocoa products in many ways, consuming more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans annually.
The process of producing cocoa by-products is a complex one. It involves several stages that entail growing, harvesting, fermenting, grinding, pressing, chocolate making, and marketing. Although cocoa sales have increased significantly over recent years, the value chain still faces a number of challenges in growing and selling cocoa.
First, low productivity is a direct result of low adoption rates of modern farming techniques or farm management skills. Poor access to financial resources for purchasing input supplies and high-quality planting materials, as well as high soil degradation can also negatively impact crop productivity. Second, cocoa farmers face marketing challenges due to inadequate access to market information. Farmers also may lack deep knowledge and understanding of cocoa quality requirements, as well as marketing strategies such as leveraging the power of group buying rather than purchasing inputs on an individual basis. Finally, pests and disease are a major concern, and can result in crop losses between 30-40% (http://worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/).
To sustain cocoa growth in the long-term, these issues must be addressed. In an effort to mitigate these challenges, Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers, Erin Andrews and Rebecca Roebbers, will be traveling to Changuinola, Panama in March 2015 to provide technical assistance to a group of 20 families in the processing and marketing of cocoa by-products. They will train the families in artisanal chocolate making through hands-on workshops and will support the families in improving the packaging and marketing of their products. For updates on their assignment, stay tuned!
For additional information on the cocoa value chain, check out the World Cocoa Foundation infographic here.