From the Field Chen and the Chocolate Factory

Chen Mei-Feng is a cocoa farmer from Pingtung County, Taiwan. She is also one of 50 winners of the 2019 Cocoa of Excellence (CoEx) Award, a competition led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT to promote diverse, fine flavour cocoa worldwide.

Pingtung County’s hilly terrain experiences hot, humid weather, while nearby Mount Dawu provides protection from the wind. This is the site of Chen’s farm. “This wonderful parcel of land offers perfect conditions for cocoa cultivation. We planted our first cocoa tree in 2014 with joy,” she says.

Cocoa production is a growing industry in Taiwan, with the area of land cultivated for plantations having leapt from zero to 300 hectares in just the past decade.

“As an enthusiast and diligent cocoa cultivator, I produce diverse varieties of cocoa beans,” says Chen.

From a hint of hazelnut and honey to guava, lychee and flowers, Taiwanese beans offer a multitude of flavours. Cocoa diversity is not just essential for flavour, but also for production, as it provides resistance to pests and diseases, as well as resilience to changing climatic conditions.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the challenges faced by cocoa farmers, putting further pressure on their livelihoods. The lockdown has decreased global demand for chocolate, destabilizing the market and further threatening farmers’ incomes.

Chen Mei-Feng taking care of her cocoa trees in her plantation in Taiwan’s Pingtung county. Taiwanese beans offer a multitude of flavours. Cocoa diversity is important also for production as it provides resilience to climate change.

Worldwide, cocoa production represents the main source of income for 50 million households across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Most of them are smallholder producers. Furthermore, besides supporting farmers’ households, coffee and cacao earnings also contribute to community infrastructure, such as schools. In this context, providing incentives for safeguarding and sustainably producing many diversified varieties of cocoa is crucial, both for environmental and economic reasons.

A prime example is the CoEx Programme, which links cocoa producers to buyers, chocolate makers and consumers. Over the years, CoEx has shown that such a multi-stakeholder platform can improve farmers’ living conditions through differentiated market opportunities that recognize superior quality cocoa and preserve flavors resulting from genetic diversity and farmers’ knowledge.

“Being part of Cocoa of Excellence has been a goal since the beginning to promote Taiwanese chocolate on the world stage,” Chen says. “I hope more chocolate lovers can taste the unique chocolate flavours from Taiwan.”