Ecuador, where the fatty beans used to make chocolate have been grown since pre-Columbian times, is surpassing Brazil as Latin America’s top cocoa producer after boosting planting and running education programs for farmers.
Cocoa-bean output rose 13 percent last year to 220,000 metric tons as the country is poised to become the world’s fourth-biggest producer by 2015, said Ivan Ontaneda, president of Ecuador’s National Cocoa Exporters Association, known as Anecacao.
Ecuador cocoa has been judged the best in the world in a number of recent international competitions.
Ecuador, an OPEC nation better known for heavy crude oil and bananas, is boosting cocoa output in a bid to diversify exports as economic growth slows and its trade deficit widened to the worst level in three years. Output will continue to climb as trees planted in 2009 and 2010 begin to bear fruit and farmers helped by government programs improve harvests, Ontaneda said.
“In terms of total production, we outstripped Brazil in 2013,” Ontaneda, who’s also chief executive officer of cocoa exporter Eco-Kakao SA, said in an interview at his office in Guayaquil. “In 2015, we estimate we’ll produce more than 250,000 metric tons and we’ll become the number four producer of cocoa in the world.”
Brazil’s cocoa output fell 15 percent last year to 194,382 tons from 228,881 tons a year earlier, according to Thomas Hartmann, head of statistics at the commercial association of Bahia state, where most of Brazil’s cocoa is grown.
An outbreak of the witches’ broom fungal disease in Brazil reduced the nation’s cocoa production last year. Repeated outbreaks of the disease since the 1980s displaced Brazil from the position of top producer and have since discouraged planting, while African countries took the lead.
West Africa accounts for about 70 percent of global cocoa output, with Ivory Coast being the world’s top producer, followed by Ghana. Ecuador is the world’s top grower of flavored beans used in fine chocolate.
Photo caption: A cocoa farm near Santo Domingo