FAO Investment Centre

The potential for a superior quality cacao market to boost small farmers' income


In the past decade, the international chocolate market has become more sophisticated with an increasing number of consumers focusing on quality chocolate and manufacturers branding higher cacao content from specific origins. However, the cacao sector has long grappled with challenges stemming from the absence of commonly agreed standards for cacao quality and flavour, as well as the lack of a common language on the cacao experience.

These issues, key for the development of a superior quality cacao and chocolate market, were the subject of a side event  at the World Cocoa Conference in Brussels yesterday with a presentation from the Cacao of Excellence/Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT and panellists from the cacao sector including the National Cocoa and Coffee Board of Cameroon (ONCC), Conseil du Café Cacao, Côte d’Ivoire, and the chocolate private sector such as Barry Callebaut, in addition to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

A forthcoming market intelligence report supported by the FAO Investment Centre and compiled by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)'s Cacao of Excellence Programme analyses the opportunities and challenges for the development of a superior quality market segment which can generate financial rewards for producers of superior quality cacao.

"The goal of our study was to look at the potential for the development of a Superior Quality Cacao Market and to identify the investments needed to that end," explained Andrew Meter, one of the report authors. "We believe that implementing the right investments and policies could create an enabling environment for cacao quality and diversity to further drive value, leading to higher incomes for producers.”

The global cacao market is currently segmented between a bulk commodity market led by multinational companies and a niche market with a limited set of small to medium companies and consumers willing to pay a premium for high-quality cacao. Both markets are structurally disconnected, but the niche market shows signs of adding value to cacao quality and diversity.

“Building market intelligence to better understand the potential of the superior quality segment is an important step towards its development and will require the fostering of global collaboration between the public and private sector”, said Mohamed Manssouri, Director of FAO Investment Centre.

However, volumes in the current niche market remain small, estimated at less than 5 percent of global production. Participating in this market segment also demands high standards of physical and organoleptic quality, consistency in quality and volumes, and complex logistics. Many producers, especially non-organized producers, face difficulties in accessing it despite the superior quality of their cacao.

Priority investments identified in the report relate to increasing the capacity of producers to improve production and post-harvest practices through proper fermentation and drying, and training on quality control. Creating a common language around cacao quality and harmonizing standards and grading systems will also be key for stakeholders to measure, recognize and eventually value the quality and diversity of their cacao.

The forthcoming study, which provides a framework to design specific support programs and strategies, is based on a synthesis of findings from the eight largest cacao producing countries in three continents, namely Africa (Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire), Asia and the Pacific (Indonesia) and Latin America (Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru). In addition, it analysed the situation in a further 11 countries in the three continents for a broader range of cases.

Part of the side-event discussions also focused on the release in 2023 of a multi-lingual Guide for the Assessment of Cacao Quality and Flavour which, drawing upon the expertise across the sector, offers precise instructions for the establishment of cacao processing and assessment facilities and the creation of sensory evaluation panels with rigorous scientific foundation. Combined with the means to trace quality, this is an effective way to increase value along the value chain and a key driver for increasing the income of small-scale farmers who produce the large majority of cocoa in the world.

“There is a need for national platforms that support the capacity of farmers to evaluate their cacao and direct the sector towards a common language, the Guide is an important stepping stone”, said Katrien Delaet, Founder of Silva Cacao.