Focus: Luker Chocolate’s Cacao Effect project records Colombian success

With sustainable sourcing at the centre of its business, Luker Chocolate has been at the forefront of delivering best practice in supply chains. Here, the company offers an overview of its longest running “Chocolate Dream’ project, the Cacao Effect in Colombia.

The five year initiative, which has reached over 6,000 families focused on increasing farmer income through productivity, strengthening farmer associations and improving education and resilience in rural communities that have been strongly affected by violence.

The closing event was held on 24 November 2023, in Bogotá, Colombia and showcased both the impact of the project, and also provided an opportunity for attendees to connect with the project participants.

The Cacao Effect Project was rolled out as part of Luker’s plan “The Chocolate Dream” – a root and branch of Luker’s sustainability strategy. The cooperation agreement was signed on 30 November 2018 for a period of five years. The Alliance consists of Luker Chocolate; USAID Colombia, Luker Foundation, Enel Colombia, Saldarriaga Concha Foundation, EAFIT University, and IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative). Together, the shared mission was to strengthen cocoa production and enhance the livelihoods of cocoa producers and their communities in four main regions of the country, Urabá, Bajo Cauca, Huila, and Tumaco – areas historically affected by conflict, illicit crops, and violence.

Julia Ocampo, Luker’s VP of Cacao Sourcing and Sustainability says “The Cacao Effect set the foundation of our anchor model approach, that we currently use to implement The Chocolate Dream. By partnering with diverse allies, we are able to have a more significant impact in the communities and their ecosystem. As we grow The Chocolate Dream, we will continue working with cocoa-growing communities, with a special focus on generational inclusion so that young people have better opportunities to integrate into the sector and see a prosperous future in cacao.”

This year’s World Confectionery Conference, held in the UK (see our exclusive video review of the event here), featured Luker Chocolate as part of its agenda, with Paul Morris, the company’s European sales manager, explaining the firm’s continuing mission to deliver premium confectionery in a fully sustainable manner that has respect for the full value of its cocoa supply chains. This has been made possible through the development of its own plantation in Colombia, as well as working closely with co-operatives throughout the country.

The Cacao Effect – An Anchor for Peace in Cocoa Territories
For decades, the Colombian countryside has been the scene of armed conflict, with cacao farming areas lying within some of the most impacted regions. These territories have suffered the effects of conflict connected to the prevalence of illegal crop cultivation. Cacao growing has emerged as the conduit for economic empowerment in these communities, following a USD 36.35 million dollar investment – of which USD 7.5 million came from international cooperation, mainly from USAID. In the past five years, The Cacao Effect has been a guiding light for cocoa-growing communities in Colombia, creating inclusive rural development opportunities that are sufficiently powerful to improve the quality of life of the producing families and their communities.

“Although this project reaches its conclusion, we want to emphasize that the work does not end here”, assured Jeremiah Carew, Mission Director in Charge of USAID Colombia, “on the contrary, with the alliances we have strengthened and improved capacity, cocoa farmers have a path forward to continue generating greater income.”

The project focused on five key areas:

Productivity – Enhanced cocoa productivity with over 700 participating farmers trained in Luker’s climate smart agricultural methodology including agroforestry design, pruning and soil nutrition, the participating farmers saw an increase in productivity of 42%.

Entrepreneurship –The Cocoa Effect partnered with the communities to help bring innovative new business ideas to life that would bring in new and lucrative income streams. 837 individuals were trained in entrepreneurship, 63% of whom are women.

Farming Associations – The Cocoa Effect worked to strengthen farming associations – that are an important source of support for small farmers – with administrative training programmes, technical help, and advice on best commercial practices, so they could provide better levels of support to their members. Over 20 cocoa farming associations were strengthened with a 36% improvement in the Organizational Capacity Index among associations from 2019-2023.

Education – The Cacao Effect partnered with rural schools in the regions to implement thorough reading and vocational education programmes to both improve comprehension skills and better equip teens to find future jobs. 3,606 children, youths, and adults received academic programme training.

Resilience –The project engaged with farming communities that have suffered through the years of conflict to help them both recover and improve resilience against future challenges. The Cocoa Effect worked with 1,435 individuals in neighboring communities offering psychological support to help develop coping mechanisms for conflict resolution. As  the business noted, the Cocoa Effect is not just a name. It is the realisation that cocoa can have a positive and exponential effect driving peace and prosperity in vulnerable regions in Colombia.

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