Creating value in Colombian cacao

By Jemma Dyson - January 29th, 2021 | Posted in Article

As Colombia continues to increase its production of cacao, the crop which produces cocoa,  the true economic opportunities the crop offers are starting to be realised. The ‘fine flavour’ high-quality bean variety that can be cultivated in Colombia gives the country an advantage over other large producers.

Whilst there are still challenges to overcome, progress is being made to create value in cacao to improve livelihoods, aid social regeneration and offer an alternative to illegitimate and dangerous sources of income such as working in the mines or cutting coca, the crop from which cocaine originates.

To create a fair supply chain that works for all those involved and ensure that growing cacao is seen as economically viable by the farming community, creating value is critical.

COLCO (the Colombia Cocoa Control System) has been working with farmers since late 2018 to develop technology solutions for boosting productivity, improving yield and consistency of quality, and securing the future of cacao farming in Colombia. COLCO is a partnership between the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Manufacturing Technologies Centre (part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult), with key UK and Colombian technology developers and Colombian cacao supply chain stakeholders involved in creating these solutions.

Current Economic Challenges  

Whilst cacao is steadily being adopted by farmers because of government support and third-party initiatives such as COLCO, there are still hurdles in the path of creating value in Colombian cacao:

  • Coca – Coca cutting is still seen as a way to earn quick money, fuelling the local drug trade, and resulting in a possible arrest and/or crop destruction for those involved.
  • Financial Planning – Farmers tend to live from harvest to harvest and therefore cannot plan financially and invest in their farms or education. A lot of younger people also see cacao farming as laborious and a non-viable career path, and so choose to move to cities in search of financial stability.
  • Literacy – Many farmers have a poor level of literacy and thus struggle to communicate with experts, keep accurate records and update account books. A lot of cacao farmers are also “technology illiterate”, and so struggle to use technology to improve their cacao production, increase profit margin and improve their quality of life.
  • Cultural blockers – due to the history of violence within Colombia over the past half a century, data collection is not routinely done or legally required, meaning that data on Colombian cacao production are very scarce and there is very little incentive for cacao farmers to collect data. Additionally, people who live in rural areas of Colombia, including cacao farmers, can be distrustful towards new technology.

Support for the Cacao Supply Chain

Designated as an official peace crop as part of the 2016 Peace Agreement, the Colombian Government has an interest in ensuring that cacao is a viable way to make a living vs. coca farming which fuels the local drug trade and can contribute to violence across the region. However, on the ground this can be challenging due to the rural nature of the farm communities and a disconnect between Government services.

As a result, Government support is available to farmers to get funding and advice from experts such as agronomists to promote better farming practices and profitability.

Third-party organisations such as COLCO are also involved in supporting cacao farmers to create value through the incorporation of technologies, education, better farming practices and more. COLCO, among other projects, is supported by the British Embassy in Colombia and funded by Innovate UK and the Newton Caldas Fund.

How COLCO Is Helping to Create Value

On the ground, COLCO is helping to create value in a range of ways including work on improving crop yields, achieving a consistent quality of cacao through improving the fermentation and drying processes, reducing the risk of crop failure and upgrading quality control measures.

This is being achieved through better training of people that support farmers, better connecting farmers with experts and their wider communities, utilising technology and introducing innovative hardware such as cacao fermentation monitors to farmers.

Beyond the hands-on support being provided to farmers, COLCO is creating a new business ecosystem, moderating and facilitating a sustainable flow of value which benefits supply chain actors equally without impacting the environment.

All these different elements work together to ultimately create a product for the cacao supply chain which will have a value greater than the sum of its parts.

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The Future of Cacao in Colombia

As cacao farming becomes more widespread in Colombia, all those involved in the supply chain can benefit economically, from farmers to those working in the transport, distribution, and production of cacao.

Localised processing along value and supply chains will also improve as cacao becomes more abundant, which will create jobs within local communities, reduce inequality and could help to shift the existing perceptions of cacao farming.

The rise of cacao could also benefit the stability of the region, with fewer coca plantations driving the drug trade and more workers seeing cacao as a viable alternative.


Cacao poses a significant economic opportunity to Colombians which could improve ways of life, boost the economy, support isolated communities, and promote peace across the region, but its full value is yet to be realised.

Projects like COLCO are dedicated to unlocking value within cacao through technology, innovation and ensuring that the supply chain is fair and sustainable.

For more information about COLCO, or to explore opportunities for collaboration with the Catapult, contact us on 01235 428199 or email



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