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Boutique cocoa farms

Monday, May 5, 2014

Boutique cocoa farms could thrive in Central America, by being immune to disease.

The region has plenty of skilled workers.

Land costs are attractive.

Demand for cocoa is likely to stay high.

Successful farmers could in turn transform their cocoa into high-value chocolate.

Small, dispersed farms are a way of creating immunity to plagues, which regularly affect cocoa plants.

Close to 90% of world production comes eight countries, often in large areas, where fungus has in recent years decimated crops.

Global stockpiles of cocoa fell 17 percent in the year up to last September, mainly because of the so-called Black Pod Rot.

Five years earlier, another fungus devastated cocoa farms from Mexico to Brazil.

Fungus tends to spread quickly, where cocoa farms are close to each other.

Small farms, surrounded by other crops or forest, would in many cases be immune.

In terms of labor, Central America has skilled farm workers, many of whom need jobs.

Changes in production and consumption, including increased imports, have in recent years cut consumer demand for locally grown rice, potato and other crops.

The cost of agricultural land in Central America can be a few hundred dollars per hectare, equal to four acres.

Demand for cocoa will stay high, to the extent that disease continues to infect plants.

Meanwhile, successful growers could transform their crops into chocolate, whose value on average is ten times greater than that of cocoa.

Currently, nearly all of the world’s chocolate made for consumers comes from European and American companies.

The other main ingredients in chocolate – milk and sugar – are abundant in Central America.

With free trade, Central American chocolate can be exported duty-free to the United States and Europe.

Africa was responsible for three quarters of total 2012 production of four million tonnes.

But the Mayas of Central America introduced cocoa to the world.