Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge Winners: Forging a sustainable future for Colombia's cocoa industry

It is with great satisfaction that we announce the winners of the Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge, a milestone event for the sustainable cocoa industry in Colombia.

Launched in August 2023, the Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge  aimed to empower entrepreneurs committed to preserving forests and advancing peace within the cocoa sector. The overwhelming response—393 applications and 87 nominations—showcased a wave of innovative solutions, reflecting a strong commitment to gender inclusivity and youth engagement.

The Challenge targeted early-stage innovations within Colombia's cocoa value chain contributing to one or more of the following priority areas: sustainable sourcing; quality and traceability; sustainable farming practices and productivity; processing and value adding; market access and distribution; social empowerment and inclusion through cocoa value chain processes. It was a call for transformative ideas that fostered inclusivity and sustainability across the industry.

"The number of applications we received demonstrates the urgency of supporting those seeking to revolutionize the cocoa industry in a sustainable way” expressed Augusto Castro, senior scientist and leader of the Low Emissions Food Systems Research Theme of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and leader of the IKI-SLUS Project in Colombia, “We are excited about the potential we have seen in Colombia's entrepreneurs and the impact they can have on forest conservation and peace in the region.”

The Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge was more than just a competition; it represented a two-month acceleration program. Nine selected startups underwent rigorous coaching and technical guidance, enabling them to refine their innovations, create viable growth plans, and enhance the credibility of their solutions.

They are: Chocoguayabal, a company from Valle del Cauca made up of farmers who produce table chocolate, and CSA Colombia, Communities Sustaining Agriculture, based in Medellín.

 "This award means the possibility of continuing to co-create with communities that support agriculture at the national level. The experience was a challenge of growth and constant learning: to meet other projects and see how we could connect. We have to participate in these processes, we have to believe that what we are doing has value and that it is very important that other people know about it," said Andrea Cano, representative of the CSA Network.

"Winning this award is an opportunity to grow our business and improve the living conditions of the farmers who collaborate with us in the growth of our company. These types of challenges allow us to have tools for growth, scale business and relationships with other initiatives at the national and international level," said María Nidia Sánchez of Chocoguayabal, a company from the municipality of Riofrío, in Valle del Cauca.

Juan Sebastián Giraldo and María Nidia Sánchez of Chocoguayabal and Andrea Cano of the CSA Network. (white blouse).

The winners' innovative approach and dedication to sustainability are inspiring examples for the industry. They will each receive US$15,000, plus access to networks and post-acceleration support to scale their innovations.

"From the Ministry our purpose is to ensure that all ventures have a positive social and environmental impact. This type of strategy generates that all enterprises can scale their processes, not only at a productive level, but also at a commercial, strategic, marketing and production level. It is a great boost for the sector.” Remarked Juan Carlos Revelo, coordinator of Green Business at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

The presentations of these winners took place during the demo day of the Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge, where they presented to a Selection Committee composed of valuable stakeholders from CGIAR Accelerate for Impact Platform (A4IP), Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Rockstart and Green Business Office from Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development along with an audience comprising key ecosystem actors, corporates, public institutions, scientists, investors, and the media. Each team was allocated 4’ minutes to present their solution, followed by a 3’ Q&A portion with the Selection Committee. 

The Challenge caught the attention of many agri-tech stakeholders, who applied to the challenge and/or engaged in its activities. With this in mind, the A4IP aims to build on the momentum around the Challenge by engaging with all applicants, inviting them to connect and collaborate with others in the innovation ecosystem via  A4IP Venture Space, and continue to grow the community of ambitious entrepreneurs, scientists, experts, investors, and agri-tech enthusiasts.

“The Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge exemplifies the capacity of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and the CGIAR Accelerate for Impact Platform, to pioneer novel approaches in knowledge transfer, bolstering business-driven sustainable enterprises that not only safeguard forests and foster peace but also mold a resilient cocoa industry in Colombia.  It is not just about competition, we are dedicated to nurturing a dynamic community of change agents, pioneering innovation at the intersection of agriculture, environmental, and social impact.” Mentioned Gianpiero Menza, Senior Manager at the Alliance of Bioversity International & CIAT.

As we forge ahead, stay tuned for the next A4IP-led innovation challenges. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any questions.

The Sustainable Cocoa Innovation Challenge pitch day has taken place as the result of the joint effort between CGIAR research initiatives AgriLAC Resiliente and Mitigate+ and the project “Implementing Sustainable Agricultural and Livestock Systems for Simultaneous Targeting of Forest Conservation for Climate Change Mitigation (REDD+) and Peacebuilding in Colombia,” otherwise known as the IKI-SLUS Project, and powered by CGIAR Accelerate for Impact Platform and Rockstart. Read the blog to get to know the winners of the challenge!