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Heads and tails of Cocoa: between the sky and the soil

by Lourdes Páez, CEO Lachó Cacao and author of Ecuador Tierra del Cacao

The world of cocoa is experiencing turbulent times.

Cocoa bean prices are soaring to levels not seen in 40 years, driven by poor harvests in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which are the world's largest suppliers, plus speculation in the futures markets of London and New York.

Farmers welcome this bonanza , which can be an opportunity to obtain greater income for their hard work, which has been undervalued for decades. The prices of cocoa beans, in the case of Ecuador, did not cover all the costs of the small farmer. The majority of cocoa farmers are over 50 years old, and their children have migrated to urban areas in search of better income and opportunities.

The quintal of cocoa was sold for less than US$100, and if it was sold in slime, that is, with the mucilage and without drying, the price was $65 per quintal. Incredible that as of March 2024, a quintal of dry cocoa beans is priced in Ecuador at $346, an increase of 200%.

Thhis is an opportunity for cocoa farmers to invest in technology, improve plantations, build modern post-harvest facilities. While the big winners are the exporters and intermediaries, they are surely celebrating this Cocoa Boom!

The chocolatiers,

We suffer and I include myself since I am a chocolate maker. The 200% increase in cacao puts us in a complicated situation, since raising consumer prices ends up reducing the demand for chocolate, and drives the purchase of “fake chocolate”, that unfair competitor known as “compound”, made from palm oil, powdered milk and a lot of sugar.

In Ecuador, the largest cocoa country in South America, the situation is even more ironic: since with this price madness, the quality of fine cocoa takes a backseat, since now any seed is sold with or without fermentation, the prizes for organic or fair trade aren't so attractive anymore.

Chocolate companies have it difficult: we work in a local market limited by its size, where chocolate is not valued as it should, paying $2 for a bar seems like a luxury. In contrast, in the United States, an artisanal bar can cost $10.

What does the future hold? The forecasts are not encouraging. The deficit of African cocoa in the global market is driving demand and supply, meaning prices will remain high into 2024 and 2025.

What can we do? I want to be proactive and think of alternatives, so I suggest:

  • Consume chocolate consciously: support small chocolate companies that work with quality cocoa and sustainable practices.

  • Value the work behind chocolate: understand that the price of an artisanal bar goes beyond simple flavor, it is a recognition of the efforts of the producers and chocolatiers.

  • Be willing to pay a fair price: chocolate is not just a sweet, it is a product with social and environmental value.

In short, the cocoa situation invites us to reflect on the importance of responsible and fair consumption. Let's help Ecuadorian chocolate have a sweet future for everyone!

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