Ho Thanh Van, a farmer in Châu Thành District of Bến Tre Province, his earning from cocoa farming is much higher from that of coconut or longan. (Photo: VNA)

HCM City (VNA/VNS) - Vietnam has become the second Asian country to achieve a fine flavour cocoa (FFC) designation from the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO).

Forty percent of the country’s cocoa exports have received this designation. Indonesia was the first Asian country to receive the recognition in 2011, but it applied to only 1 percent of that country’s cocoa exports.

ICCO uses many criteria to assess the quality of fine flavour cocoa. Among them are the genetic origin of the planting material, morphological characteristics of the plant, flavour characteristics of the cocoa beans, chemical characteristics of the beans and colour of the beans and nibs.

Other criteria include the degree of fermentation, drying, acidity, off-flavours, percentage of internal mould, insect infestation, and percentage of impurities.

Twenty-three countries are included on ICCO’s list of producing countries exporting exclusively FFC or partially FFC beans.

The world cocoa market distinguishes between two broad categories of cocoa beans – “fine flavour” cocoa beans, and “bulk” or “ordinary” cocoa beans.

According to ICCO, fine flavour cocoa accounts for about 6 percent of global cocoa exports and their prices are always 5-10 percent higher than the floor price at the London and New York markets.

This recognition is good news for the Vietnamese cocoa industry.

In 2013, Puratos Grand-Place Vietnam also won an international award for producing the best cocoa in the Asia-Pacific region.

The award was part of the Cocoa of Excellence programme to celebrate the diversity of cocoa flavours from all over the world and to recognise overall excellence in processing the beans.

Despite some encouraging results, Vietnam’s cocoa sector has not enjoyed stable development in the past decade, according to the Crop Production Department.

A Government plan until 2020 targeted having 35,000ha of cocoa cultivation by 2015 and 50,000ha by 2020.

But the cocoa cultivation area had shrunk dramatically to 11,229 ha last year compared to the peak of 25,700ha in 2012 because many farmers have switched to more profitable crops, said Nguyen Nhu Hien of the department.

Low productivity and price volatility were among the key factors affecting farmers, he said.

To encourage cocoa cultivation, Puratos Grand-Place Vietnam, the country’s biggest cocoa buyer, which buys 40 percent of the country’s total cocoa output, has developed a Cacao-Trace programme in which it works directly with farmers.

The programme is dedicated to creating long-term sustainable cocoa production and added value for the entire cocoa supply chain, from the farmer to the final consumer, said GrichaSafarian, the company’s managing director.

The programme provides farmers with agricultural training so they can achieve the best profit; offers them a 40 percent seedling price subsidy; and gives farmers 170 USD for every tonne of cocoa the company buys from them.

“We’re working towards achieving full vertical integration from cocoa beans to chocolate,” Safarian said.

Ho Thi Thanh Truc, in charge of the company’s cocoa development programme, said by applying its “productivity packages”, which combine good seedlings, proper pruning and pest control and fertiliser, farmers can raise annual productivity to three kilos of dried beans per tree from the current figure of 0.5-0.8 kilos, thus greatly improving their income.

Truc said its Cocoa Development Centre in Ben Tre province in 2014 trained more than 1,000 cocoa farmers and targets raising the number to 3,000 by the end of this year.

Ho Thanh Van, a farmer in Chau Thanh district of BenTre province who took part in the Cacao-Trace programme, said he planted 1,000 cocoa trees under other crops like coconut and longan on 1.2ha of land, with productivity in 2011 reaching five tonnes of fresh fruits (21 kilos of fresh fruits offer 1 kilo of dried beans).

In 2011, Puratos applied its “productivity packages” on Van’s 80 cocoa trees. As a result of increased productivity, Van decided to apply the packages to 400 trees and had an output of 19 tonnes of fresh fruits in 2014. The figure is expected to reach 24 tonnes this year.

Last year, his earnings from cocoa cultivation reached 100 million VND (4,421 USD), much higher from that of coconut or longan, he said.

More than 2,000 cocoa farmers have participated in the programme.

With global demand for cocoa increasing, experts forecast a shortage of one million tonnes by 2020, offering producers, including Vietnam, a great opportunity for export sales.

In Vietnam, cocoa is grown mainly in three regions: the Central Highlands, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, and the southeastern part of the country.

Cocoa is a commodity surrounded by “healthy claims” in terms of the presence of anti-oxidant, which add to the attraction of the product to consumers, said Safarian.

“We sincerely hope that Vietnam will not miss that commodity on the map of its development plans as we see a bright future for the demand and for the price of cocoa in the next decades"./.