Barry Callebaut unveils Future Farming Initiative with Ecuador high-tech venture

An ambitious move from the Barry Callebaut Group has seen it unveil plans for a Future Farming Initiative (FFI), based upon an initial pilot project in Ecuador, aimed at creating scaleable, high-tech, sustainable cocoa supplies for the global market, reports Neill Barston.

Notably, the South American nation is reportedly primed to shortly overtake Ghana, as the world’s second largest producer in the segment, delivering some 365,000 tonnes of cocoa per season for the past couple of years.

This compares to the continuing major challenges faced by West African nations that have been hit hard by the impact of spiralling costs of crops, reaching $10,000 per tonne on Futures commodities markets, which have been influenced by a number of factors including major hedge fund and the wider investment sector driving prices higher, along with crop deficits and disease owing to poor weather and consequent diseases severely limiting yields.

There has also been a noted ongoing major issue with ‘galamsey’ illegal gold mining, with prospectors pressuring farmers to sell land used for cocoa farming, further impacting on farming productivity and viability for key producing nations in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Consequently, this has seen a number of companies, including Barry Callebaut examine wider cocoa growing markets and opportunities, with its latest FFI initiative set to be led by Steven Retzlaff, the group’s president of global cocoa, taking on a new role as Executive Chairman of FFI, reporting to Peter Feld, CEO.

As the business confirmed, its new venture will see the development of technology and R&D capabilities that will have scaleable potential, intending for it to be a catalyst for others to create similar initiatives investing in farming, stating that it is aiming to create partnerships with farmers to modernise sustainable cocoa farming at scale. This is in contrast to the bulk of the cocoa market in West Africa, which remains largely dominated by traditional smallholder farming models, with a growing movement towards cooperatives.

Peter Feld said: “At Barry Callebaut, we take our responsibility for all stakeholders very seriously. Over more than ten years, the company has made many positive steps on its sustainability journey as manifested last year in our renewed Forever Chocolate programme that will continue to support the development of sustainable cocoa production in our origin sourcing countries.

“To fully unlock our know-how which we acquired over the past decade, we now aim to be a catalyst and create the future of sustainable, high-tech cocoa farming for the industry.
Steven Retzlaff is the perfect person to take on this new challenge. He is well recognised as an industry leader and expert. During the past 20 years he has fundamentally transformed Barry Callebaut’s Global Cocoa business into the success story we know today. He was instrumental in defining the long-term vision of cocoa sustainability for smallholder farming. Hence, we are very excited that Steven takes on this new challenge to transform how cocoa is farmed in the future.”

Under Steven Retzlaff’s lead, Barry Callebaut has signed the first of what will become a series of agreements with a highly respected high-tech farming business in Bahia, Brazil, for the initial development of 5,000 hectares of land.

As the company added, the joint ambition is to pilot and develop best practices in order to create a scalable and profitable high-tech model for sustainable cocoa farming. Barry Callebaut’s original 640-hectare Farm of the Future property, located in the Cerecitas Valley, Ecuador, will also be part of the FFI. Crucially, the business added that it would ‘continue with its efforts to reform the current farming model in all its origin sourcing countries,” while also integrating strategies from its FFI into its transformative approach.

Steven Retzlaff commented: “I am very excited about taking on this new challenge. I am convinced that with FFI, we will not only bring cocoa farming to industrial levels, but we will also help make sustainable cocoa the norm. We will be able to transfer our learnings and expertise from FFI to our partners in all our origin sourcing countries to continue to help them on their journey to more productive and sustainable cocoa farming. Something, which has been very close to my heart for the past decades and will remain so in the future.”

Alain Freymond (above), will succeed Steven Retzlaff effective immediately as President of Global Cocoa, reporting to Peter Feld. Alain Freymond, a Swiss citizen, has been with Barry Callebaut for 20 years. During this time, he has held critical executive functions in global cocoa, including sourcing, risk management, sales and operations in Switzerland and North America. He holds a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from ETH Zurich.



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