Cocoa Farmers

Life on a Cocoa Farm

Cocoa farming is the principal income for more than 500,000 Sulawesi families, producing 70% of all of Indonesian cocoa.

Sulawesi cocoa farms are entirely small holder based and usually produce under-fermented cocoa. Typical average income for a cocoa farming family is around USD1,500 - USD2,000 per anum based on currently poor crop yields of around 700kg per hectare, although there are many farms larger than 1 hectare. This of course is dependant on the world price of cocoa at the time.

Cocoa farming is quite labour intensive and most often run as a family farm but emplying additional labour during the harvest periods. The main activities for cocoa farmers are:

1. Tree and Farm Management
Cocoa is a fruit tree and pruning is one of the most important factors that determine cocoa tree productivity for any particular variety. Proper soil maintenance, fertilizing and composting are also critical, as is routine farm sanitation and integrated pest and disease management.

2. Harvesting
Cocoa trees are typically harvested twice a year in a main crop and then "mid" crop, but some cocoa will be produced all year round. The pods are split open by hand using a wooden stick to reveal the cocoa beans (seeds) covered in a sweet pulp.

3. Fermentation
After the beans are removed they are typically laid out on a net, or banana leaf to dry in the sun but to produce properly fermented cocoa the farmer needs to allow them to ferment first in boxes or in heaps to allow the proper formation of cocoa flavour prior to sun drying. Once the beans are dried they are packed into bags ready for sale.

The family group often works together during each of the stages and, as the price of cocoa is determined by the world cocoa terminal price there is a siginficant incentive for cocoa farmers to keep costs low, improve quality and limit the damage to beans from pests and diseases.

PT. Community Solutions International works with cocoa industry stakeholders, the Cocoa Sustainability Partnership and directly with farmers providing training to small holder cocoa farmers as well as collecting and purchasing the bark peeled from prunings for use in paper production. While the men prune the cocoa trees we encourage women to strip the bark before they stock pile the wood for use in cooking, and to package this bark for sale to our collectors. What previously was a farm waste is now a source of alternative income to women living on cocoa farms, providing them with added financial flexibility and confidence.

To read more about our Sustainable Cocoa Paper please visit the "Paper" page.

For more information on the Cocoa Sustainability Partnership please visit

Visit our other Community Partners:

Island Communities   |   Children   |   Women

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Cacao - Fruit of the Gods

Cacao is the botanical name for the tree, the fruit "pods" and seeds that are further processed to produce cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.  Cocoa is the collective name for the products made from cacao beans (seeds).

The Cacao tree is a native of the tropical rainforests of the Amazon Basin in South America but wild varieties also occur from Mexico to Peru.

The Mayans of the Yukatan and the Aztecs of Mexico cultivated cacao thousands of years ago and the great Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, is said to have consumed it regularly as a drink called “xpcplati” made by mashing cacao seeds with water, maize and spices.  The Aztecs believed the cacao tree to be of divine origin with aphrodisiac qualities valuing it so highly that they adopted it as a currency.

Columbus was the first European to find cacao in1502 but it was Don Cortez who recognized the commercial value as a drink and in 1528, he took cacao beans to Spain where they added sugar and other spices to improve the taste.

The Spanish started to grow cacao secretly in Trinidad, trying to keep it a secret for themselves but after 100 years or so, the secret got out and the trees were grown in other islands of the West Indies, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Cacao was introduced into Africa in the 1890’s.

The popularity of the cocoa drink spread across Europe and JS Fry opened the first factory to produce it in 1728. In 1828, Van Houten of Holland developed a process to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder and this led to the development of molded block chocolate, chocolate coatings and Milk Chocolate.

World Production
The total world cacao crop is currently almost 4 million tones with Indonesia being the third largest growing region producing about 600,000 tonnes of cacao beans per annum.

Cacao is a critical source of income for more than 500,000 farming familes in Sulawesi.

While a lot of cacao is exported providing valuable foreign earnings, a number of local factories process the cacao beans into value added cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Cacao, like other crops is subject to attack by pests and diseases and farmers must manage their farms for maximum productivity, quality and long term sustainability.