The two-year, million pound project concentrates on the improvement of farm productivity, consistency of product, quality and post-harvest processes. The aim is to improve the profitability of smallholder farmers and their families, thus helping to improve socio-economic conditions in Colombia, by ensuring the farmers get a better deal from buyers, become more productive and produce better quality cocoa.
The project – named COLCO – is funded by the UK Newton Fund which supports welfare and sustainable development through science and innovation among countries receiving official development assistance. The funding is channelled through Innovate UK. The project is led by the Satellite Applications Catapult.
The MTC team is looking specifically at bean fermentation (which accounts for 70% of the flavour profile) and drying processes, both which are vital to the bean quality. In Colombia, a “fine and flavour” cocoa bean variety is produced – a higher quality cocoa bean which equates to only around 5% per annum of world cocoa production. There is growing market demand for this higher quality variety, necessitating greater consistency and standardisation in its production. Experts at the MTC are also working with the cocoa and chocolate supply chain in Colombia to establish better quality assessment of the beans on the route to commercialisation.
The project team has spent time on the farms understanding the farming, harvesting and post-harvest processes and have run workshops with local partners.
MTC technology manager Alejandra Matamoros said that they were working to ensure that farmers could achieve consistency and traceability in their processes, which would benefit them when the beans went to market.
“We want to ensure that the smallholder farmers get a better deal, which will improve the quality of life for them and their families, and will have a socio-economic effect on their region and the Colombian economy as a whole. We are not just interested in deploying technology – that would be easy. We want to make sure that our impact is positive and lasting,” she said.