How covid-19 brought new opportunities for Honduran cocoa

How covid-19 brought new opportunities for Honduran cocoa

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The popular saying "in every crisis lies opportunity" sums up the case of the organic and fair trade cocoa industry and producers in Honduras who have seen a 30% increase in demand for their product from Switzerland, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. Chocolats Halba's chocolate bars labelled "made with cocoa from Honduras" are being sold in Coop supermarkets in Switzerland.

"Swiss citizens usually eat in the cafeterias of companies or universities. Due to covid-19, industry in general closed, people are at home and buying more of their food in the supermarkets, which has led to a 30% increase in the consumption of Honduran chocolate," explains Luis Vélex, manager of the company Chocolats Halba in Honduras.

The quarantine that Honduras has experienced since March 2020 has modified the dynamics of cocoa harvesting, although "the process itself was not altered at all," says Vélex.

Cocoa harvesting takes longer due to movement restrictions, so it arrives a little slower at the warehouses in San Pedro Sula. But the company hasn't closed. And, despite the pandemic, it continues to pay prices that benefit the producers.

"Chocolats Halba has kept producer prices above the stockmarket price. It provides a purchase advance to the cooperatives, pre-financing the purchase with 0% interest, so that the cooperatives pay the producer when he delivers the wet cocoa beans," he said. The cooperatives continue to harvest cocoa and ferment it. And at Chocolats Halba they are taking all the biosecurity measures that health authorities and the government have recommended.

Covid versus climate change

As chocolate made with Honduran cocoa is bought daily in Coop supermarkets in Switzerland, in Honduras the company continues to stockpile and export cocoa despite the pandemic. Between the start of the quarantine and May, they have shipped 25 tonnes of organic and fair trade cocoa. Vélex indicates that they will soon export 100 more tonnes, of which 25 are organic and fair trade.

Chocolate made with Honduran cocoa must have double certification: organic and fair trade. And that double-certified cocoa represents 50% of the cocoa the company receives in the warehouse, says Vélex. "Switzerland is calling us every week and the stock is very small." They can't react because they depend on field production. Worried, Vélex points out that cocoa production is not affected by the pandemic but … by climate change.

"It’s not so much the movement restrictions in the country because of the quarantine that worry me. It’s the changing harvest dates because of climate change that affect the supply of cocoa,” said Luis Veléx. According to the company's projections, 80 tonnes of cocoa should have been purchased and they have only managed to obtain 50 tonnes. "This gap is due to the consequences of climate change," he adds.

To be ahead of the game, Chocolats Halba has been working together with Rikolto to face the climate crisis by learning about the implementation of Dynamic Agroforestry Systems as part of the activities of the Knowledge Management Project of the cocoa value chain in Central America implemented by Rikolto, the World Cocoa Foundation and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC).

"We are learning about agroforestry with the cocoa farmers; these systems allow families to incorporate vegetative cover in their cocoa farms, provide different nutrients to the soil and increase cocoa productivity."

Lourdes Zamora Rikolto's cocoa projects coordinator in Honduras

Dynamic Agroforestry Systems are a sustainable alternative for producers because they involve the production of healthy (organic) food alongside cocoa. Generally, these are crops that farmers can include in their diet and that ensure their access to nutritious and healthy food. But they also contribute to recreating ecosystems and therefore constitute a tool to confront climate change.

While Chocolats Halba's technicians visit cooperatives and collection centres daily, the company provides on-site or virtual technical assistance as a post-harvest service. "The technicians are working to ensure that quality is not affected at all, despite the pandemic," says Vélex.

Inclusive Chocolate

Chocolats Halba is a partner of Rikolto and Helvetas Honduras in an initiative to strengthen the Quality Cocoa Value Chain in the Department of Olancho, funded by the EU.

We are dedicated to improving the business performance of cocoa association APROSACAO and we also facilitate an inclusive business relationship by applying tools such as the LINK methodology to assess how aspects of communication, policies, pricing, contracts and innovation among others, are benefiting both parties, both the Swiss company and the 441 small cocoa farmers who are members of APROSACAO.

In the current context, this process has borne fruit; the growing demand is an opportunity to refine the company's cocoa production processes and buy more from the farmers. For Swiss citizens it is the opportunity to continue to indulge in their favourite chocolate despite the pandemic. And between a cocoa seed that is planted in Honduras and the chocolate bar that is tasted in a Swiss apartment, there is a chain of processes that every day seeks to be commercially fairer, healthier and environmentally more responsible.