Farm of the Future: Barry Callebaut drives Ecuadorian cocoa farming research and innovation

23 May 2022 — Barry Callebaut has unveiled its plans to build a dedicated hub to power cocoa farming research to support cocoa farming resilience and productivity in Ecuador. The country is the world’s third-largest cocoa producer and hailed as one of the fastest-growing cocoa origins, as well as being the largest global producer of fine flavor cocoa.

The Swiss chocolate manufacturer says that technology and innovation provide opportunities for improving farmer productivity and resilience, combating climate change and reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment. 

Key origin location
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Nicolas Mounard, director of global sustainability and farming at Barry Callebaut, says the company has sourced cocoa from Ecuador for more than 25 years. 

“Ecuador is a key origin country for us. We have consistently invested and grown in Ecuador and want to be part of the successful growth path of Ecuador going forward, actively supporting that journey with various projects.”

Ecuador is a country with a deep knowledge of agricultural production, rooted in crops as diverse as cocoa, coffee, bananas and shrimps.“[Environmental] sustainability is an integral part of Barry Callebaut’s business growth strategy, and Forever Chocolate is our plan to make [environmentally] sustainable chocolate the norm by 2025. The Cocoa Horizons methodology focuses on three pillars – Productivity, Community and Environment. We expect to gain new insights which we will be able to scale,” he explains. 

With a network of over 30 R&D centers and more than 350 dedicated R&D colleagues, the farm is a natural extension of its research expertise.

“Our Farm of the Future aims to contribute to the global movement on food system innovation, underscores Barry Callebaut. The establishment of this hub is a valuable vehicle for providing new opportunities for sustainable cocoa farming, innovation and research,” says Pablo Perversi, chief innovation, sustainability and quality officer, global head of gourmet.

The 640-hectare property is located in the Cerecita Valley, between Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, and the Pacific Ocean. 

Testing resilient techniques
Operations and infrastructure development will start immediately with the planting of cocoa seedlings on the farm’s 400 hectares of non-planted land. 

Meanwhile, Barry Callebaut will integrate high-yielding and maximum flavor varieties in its planting design to support cross-learning between cocoa farms of all sizes in different locations and climates.

Next to the cocoa bean variety, agronomics research will also test resilient farming techniques, pre-and post-harvest processes, fermentation control, diversification of income and improved cost control. 

Once the farm is fully operational, it will employ approximately 80 people from the local area.

Supporting Forever Chocolate
Farm of the Future is part of Barry Callebaut’s Forever Chocolate plan to make sustainable chocolate the norm by 2025. 

New findings from the Farm of the Future will further help support Barry Callebaut’s research and feed into its Farm Services program, reaching cocoa farmers of all origins in its supply chain. 

This will improve farmers’ livelihoods by increasing the value of their cocoa through enhanced quality and higher yield.

In other chocolate developments, food upcycling start-up Koa – specializing in repurposing cocoa pulp, a byproduct from the chocolate industry as value-added ingredients – has captured US$10 million in funding to raise its processing by tenfold at its plant in Ghana. 

Barry Callebaut recently unveiled plans to expand its North American presence by building a specialty chocolate factory in Ontario, Canada. 

The company is also on track to set up a direct distribution network in South Africa to meet the increasing demand for premium chocolate indulgence while expanding its markets in Africa. 

By Elizabeth Green

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