Around the world, people love chocolate. Proof of that is seen in countries such as England, Switzerland, and Germany, where the average resident consumes an average of 11 kilos of this sweet tropical treat every year. To keep up with the demand, the world production of cocoa reached some 3.98 million tons during 2011-2012.
Although Africa produces the largest amounts of cocoa in the world, Colombia is known for producing the type of cocoa that is recognized to have the highest quality. In 2008 The International Cocoa Organization included Colombia in the group of 15 countries that export the best cocoa, called Fine Aroma Cocoa. This year 100% of the cocoa that Colombia exported was of this type.
One particular area of Colombia is getting attention in relation to cocoa crops – the department of Bolívar and the Caribbean region, where cocoa is developing into a crop with high potential.
The Colombian government has indicated that the department of Bolívar is one of five regions apt for cultivating cocoa (the other regions are the departments of César, Córdoba, Guajira, and Magdalena). Due to its long production periods and high export potential, cocoa is a promising crop.
In Bolivar, organized efforts to promote cocoa crops began in 2002. That year the Pan American Development Foundation (Funpad-Colombia) financed a project designed to substitute illicit crops in the area so that families that once depended on coca crops could have a viable and sustainable source of income.
Where cocoa is cultivated in Colombia
In Bolívar, about 70% of cocoa crops are found in the Economic and Social Development Area of Middle Magdalena, a region that has an abundance of natural resources and biodiversity.
Cocoa production in this area increased 160% between 2009 and 2013. The 1,200 producers in the region generate more than 4,000 direct jobs, and the more than 6,800 hectares produce 2,755 tons of beans yearly.
The global demand for cocoa
In the first quarter of 2013 Colombia sold US$732,390 in cocoa. The most important buyers of cocoa produced in Bolívar are the Colombian companies Compañía Nacional de Chocolates and Casa Luker, although multinationals such as Nestlé also buy Colombian cocoa.
On a smaller scale, Colombian companies that make artisan chocolate products, drinks based on cocoa and cosmetics also increase the demand for cocoa within the country. Additionally, businesses in the hotel and restaurant sector in Cartagena use cocoa products.
More than 19% of cocoa exports are destined for the United States. In the past year, cocoa products exported from Colombia to the United States were mainly in the form of powdered cocoa, cocoa butter and other preparations that contain cocoa. In the United States, high quality, organic, sustainable, Fair Trade products are especially in demand.
The future of cocoa in Colombia
What can be done to increase cocoa production in Colombia? There are many challenges on a national level, but some points relevant to Bolívar are:
- Stimulate crop development and strengthen companies that produce cocoa in Colombia. The government could play a greater role in encouraging cultivation, production and processing of cocoa in the Bolívar region, and also promote illicit crop substitution.
- Replace older cocoa crops with certified organic crops to satisfy the demand in countries such as the United States.
- Promote innovation and diversification within the industry towards producing fine chocolates and products using organic cocoa.
Note: This article was originally published in Spanish in the November issue of Destino Cartagena Business and Tourism on pages 64-65.