Research Articles “Fine Flavor” Chocolate Standards can offer a sweet deal for Smallholder Farmers

As consumer demand grows for specialty chocolate, industry standards will have a large role in determining how (or if) smallholder farmers will benefit. Read on to learn about the implications for globally defined quality standards for cacao.

Cacao (the key ingredient of chocolate, also known as cocoa) is essential to the livelihoods of 40–50 million people globally, including over 5 million smallholders in tropical, developing countries.

In the paper “Who Defines Fine Chocolate? The Construction of Global Cocoa Quality Standards from Latin America” published in The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, researchers put forth that the ongoing debates over the content of cacao standards and their future governance structure reflect broader disputes over who will profit from or pay the most for superior quality cocoa, which is the fastest growing segment of the global cocoa market.

Fine Flavor Cacao: a growing and profitable market

The cacao industry is divided between bulk and fine flavor. Fine flavor is rapidly growing and represents a potentially more profitable market for farmers - similar to how specialty coffees already provide niche opportunities to new and established smallholder farmers as an alternative to the bulk market.

Speaking with farmers, distributors and others in the entire value chain, researchers were able to reflect on how global quality standards could set the way that farmers interact with this market.

If standards can be agreed upon (for factors from taste and smell to processing), this could move the focus away from place of origin and towards the attributes of the cocoa as the deciding element in the farmgate price.

“This could offer more opportunities for farmers entering the market, though it will still depend on context and how equitably the price premium can reach them,” says scientist Byron Reyes, an author of the study. Reyes specializes in agricultural economics at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and has experience in socioeconomic studies and impact assessments of agricultural research in developing countries in Africa and Latin America, at the national and international levels.

Colombian cacao. Photo by N.Palmer

A more inclusive and sustainable future for chocolate

State actors like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are financing industry-wide quality standards, in collaboration with NGOs, universities, and various private sector groups.

The Alliance has spent decades working on various aspects of improving livelihoods and practices for smallholder cacao growers.

Within their coffee and cacao portfolio, the Alliance has been working on risk diagnosis; locally relevant actions; supply chain alignment; and the conservation and use of genetic diversity of these crops.

For example, in the  “Cacao Fine Flavor Opportunities” project, researchers found that in Peru, inclusive dialogues inspire and provide resources for young people and women to pursue careers cultivating high-quality varieties of cacao.

In another project, researchers helped farmers to move towards a deforestation-free cacao and chocolate value chain with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn more by reading the paper.