Transforming Cacao: The Story of Chocolate Colombia and its Struggle for Sustainability and Resilience

Sustainable agriculture
A Journey from Coca Cultivation to Sustainable Cocoa Production

From the heart of Bajo Cauca in Antioquia and Sur de Córdoba, an association is making a difference in the production and transformation of cocoa and, at the same time, transforming lives.

Chocolate Colombia is the result of the union of nine organisations with a common goal: to add value to cocoa and improve its commercialisation. During this exciting journey, they have focused on sustainability, quality, and education, changing paradigms in the cocoa and chocolate industry and creating a promising future for generations to come.

Cultural Change and Sustainable Future

Amidst decades of armed conflict, drug trafficking and illegal mining in Colombia, cocoa cultivation has emerged as an emblem of hope and reconciliation. Gone is a dark past that fuelled violence and environmental degradation. Cocoa, a plant native to Colombia's Amazon region, became a vehicle for transformation.

This transformation began in the rural communities most affected by the conflict. Farmers, often victims of violence and forced displacement, received support and training to make the change from illicit coca crops to cocoa production. This not only provided them with legal income, but also game them a sense of dignity and of living in peace. The transition has been made by almost all the associations that are part of the Colombian Cocoa Association known as Chocolate Colombia, thereby contributing to the preservation of the environment and the responsible use of natural resources.

Diana Cristina Rodriguez
"Regarding the transition from coca cultivation to cocoa production and processing, this change has had a profound impact on the perception of the producers, explains Diana Cristina Rodriguez, Manager of Chocolate Colombia. Practically all the associations that are part of Chocolate Colombia have made this transition from illicit to legitimate activities,” she continues. This is essential, as illegal activities had a significant negative impact on the environment and the use of chemicals."

Cultural change is however an ongoing process, and generational change in cocoa production a challenge, so the education and empowerment of young people is necessary to continue the legacy of sustainability in the cocoa value chain.

Colombia's Cocoa Renaissance: Fair Trade and Gender Focus

Chocolate Colombia, in its nine years of existence, has gone from stockpiling cocoa to transforming the industry. They stand out in the national and international market by offering fair prices, with an extra premium of $240 per tonne for producers in their fair trade programme. Their current focus is on maintaining stable prices and expanding their customer base by rewarding producers.

Fair Trade certification is essential for Chocolate Colombia, not only guaranteeing fair prices, but also promoting sustainable practices and environmental conservation. Chocolate Colombia technicians teach farmers how to care for rivers and forests, while Fair Trade also combats child labour. This ensures generational renewal in the industry and a love of agriculture, transforming areas previously affected by illicit crops into sustainable farms.

In addition, thanks to the support of international cooperation, Chocolate Colombia has a modern and competitive factory that processes the cocoa from family farmers. The processing of the bean into chocolate products has become a generator of higher profits for the grassroots organisations, while at the same time giving the producers a sense of pride and relevance. Being able to see and taste their own chocolate is an important mechanism for empowering these producers to feel proud and to be able to show their community and their children the results of their hard work.

One of the objectives is to enable more cocoa-growing families to access new differentiated markets with the support of the Colombia + Competitiva Programme. This programme strengthens the value chain of speciality cocoa, improving quality and productivity through technical assistance and the opening of new national and international markets.

In a significant breakthrough, 30% of the women in the organisations that are part of Chocolate Colombia are experiencing economic improvements and remarkable professional growth. This progress is largely due to a focus on consolidating governance schemes that promote gender equality. Awareness is being raised about the importance of fostering women's active participation in decision-making and the equitable distribution of benefits in contexts involving family businesses, productive organisations and value chains.

This change in gender perception and practice is not only a step towards a fairer society, but has also become a key driver of the economic and social development that cocoa brings. Women are playing key roles in business management and in promoting sustainable growth. By recognising and valuing their contributions, greater efficiency and equity is being achieved in a variety of economic sectors.

The focus on gender equality in decision-making and benefit-sharing is proving to be an effective strategy for strengthening communities and improving overall economic opportunities.

Environment: The Heart of Sustainability

Cocoa is a crop affected by climate change, but at the same time has high potential for climate change mitigation, which makes it an example of sustainable agriculture. Chocolate Colombia and its producers recognise the importance of caring for the natural environment, which is essential for life and health; its preservation fundamental to the prosperity of communities.

"Climate change has directly impacted agricultural activities. Changes in temperatures, floods and droughts have affected the production and health of cocoa plants,says Diana. As we face these challenges, we have adopted more sustainable practices and explored irrigation systems to adapt to the new climate."

Chocolate Colombia is an important partner in the Paisajes + Sostenibles Antioquia Project. As a second-tier producer organisation, it plays a significant role in adding value to the landscapes and making visible the efforts of small cocoa farmers who apply sustainable environmental practices. Five of the base organisations are located in municipalities in Antioquia, representing more than 400 families living in conflict-affected areas, who see cocoa as an opportunity for development and legitimate income generation in sustainable supply landscapes.

"Today, we see producers becoming more aware of the importance of taking care of the environment, with the understanding that if they do things right, they will leave a sustainable legacy for their children, says Diana. Although changing a culture completely has not been easy, most producers are in the process of adapting and are striking the right balance, she continues. Fair trade certification is of significant value to us, as we know that our products will be bought at a fair price, in contrast to when we started producing cocoa 13 years ago."

Chocolate Colombia is a beacon of sustainability in the Colombian cocoa industry. Their commitment to quality, education and environmental conservation is forging a path towards a sustainable future. With youth as their ally and organic certification and transformation as their goal, they hope to inspire others to be part of the sustainable landscape and demonstrate that Colombian cocoa can be a global example of quality and sustainability.

About Swiss Support

The Sustainable Landscapes Project aims to improve the livelihoods and well-being of rural families in targeted areas, by creating sustainable supply landscapes with deforestation-free and climate-friendly supply chains for present and future generations. This project, implemented by Swisscontact, together with the Pakka Foundation and the Swiss-Colombian export company Colcocoa, aims to uplift rural families in Antioquia and improve climate resilience in the region and among farms. This project is co-financed by SECO through the SWISSCO Landscape Programme.

The Colombia + Competitiva Programme is a support programme for the National Government's Competitiveness Policy. It is an initiative of the Swiss Embassy in Colombia - Economic Cooperation and Development (SECO), facilitated by Swisscontact.

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Colombia + Competitiva - Strengthening the Competitiveness of the Private Sector
The Programme aims to support Colombia in its systematic efforts to improve the competitiveness of its private sector in the framework of the National System of Competitiveness, Science, Technology and Innovation and its Productive Development Policy.
"Colombia + Competitiva" follows a programmatic and systemic approach with clear ownership of the...