World of Cocoa: Ecuador

The Impact of El Niño on Cocoa Cultivation and Its Flavourful Cocoa Varieties

Ecuador, the world's third-largest cocoa exporting country, once again faces the consequences of the El Niño weather phenomenon. This natural event, the full understanding of which remains elusive in the world of science, can bring about significant changes in climate, thus affecting cocoa cultivation in the country.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs every few years in the tropics and subtropics. Its effects can be drastic, leading to unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This occurs when the trade winds, which typically push water from the coast of South America out into the Pacific, weaken or nearly cease. As a result, warm water flows toward South America, causing a shift in oceanic and atmospheric currents.

The consequences of this phenomenon are particularly pronounced in Ecuador. El Niño typically reaches the coasts of Ecuador between November and December, with the highest rainfall amounts expected between February and March of the following year. This has significant implications for cocoa cultivation, which holds immense economic importance in Ecuador. In the past, Ecuador has experienced devastating El Niño events, resulting in substantial damage to cocoa cultivation and other economic sectors. Torrential rains and flooding have led to entire regions being evacuated.

Currently, El Niño has already developed in the Pacific, as reported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in early June 2023. The impacts of this El Niño are expected to be felt in Ecuador and worldwide until June of the following year. Experts, however, anticipate that the current El Niño will be of moderate intensity. Nevertheless, the effects of El Niño will vary by country and region.

Looking ahead, it is important to note that lower harvest volumes are expected in both the main harvest in 2024 (March-June) and possibly the secondary harvest (December 2024-January 2025) due to the ongoing El Niño event. As a response, we appeal to our customers to inform us of their requirements at short notice. Furthermore, a new container of ASSS Ecuador has been ordered and will be shipped as soon as possible to meet the needs of our customers. We remain committed to providing high-quality cocoa products despite the challenges posed by El Niño.

In Ecuador's cocoa cultivation, two main varieties play a crucial role: Nacional Arriba and CCN-51.

Ecuador Arriba Nacional
Ecuador Arriba Nacional

Nacional Arriba:
This cocoa variety is favored by true chocolatiers but has seen a decline in production in recent years. Most farmers who grow this variety are small-scale producers, and production is limited. Nacional Arriba faces challenges from pests like Monilla and Witches' Broom, further constraining production.

The beans are medium sized and light, with ripe cacao pods having a yellow color. There are a few projects working to improve Nacional Arriba cocoa production, but Nacional Arriba accounts for only a small portion of Ecuador's total cocoa production.

Certain associations and rural exporters advocate for the production of pure Nacional Arriba cocoa batches that are organic or fair-trade certified, albeit at a higher price. However, this accounts for only about 5% of the national production.

CCN-51, on the other hand, is a cocoa variety whose production continues to grow steadily. It is more resistant to pests like Monilla and Witches' Broom and can withstand longer periods of flooding. The beans are large and have a higher weight.

CCN-51 Ecuador
CCN-51 Ecuador

Most farmers prefer CCN-51 due to its higher yields. Some employ irrigation, fertilizers, and pruning measures to further boost production.

However, most small-scale farmers in Ecuador blend Nacional Arriba with CCN-51, as there is no governmental regulation prohibiting the mixture. This results in the export of blended cocoa that includes pure Nacional Arriba with CCN-51.

The challenge for Ecuadorian cocoa exporters lies in expanding the international market for their products while maintaining cocoa quality. The majority of cocoa is exported unfermented, while a small portion is fermented and sold to niche markets.

Cocoa Prosperity in Ecuador
Ecuador stands as one of the few countries where the majority of the cocoa price goes directly to the farmers. Despite challenges posed by El Niño and other factors, Ecuador has the opportunity to strengthen its position in the global cocoa export market. Overall, it is a country in a unique position in cocoa cultivation, with diverse challenges but also opportunities for growth and development.

We would like to inform you that we currently do not have Nacional Arriba in stock. However, we offer the option to ship it upon customer request under the names Guayas and Manabi, referring to their respective cultivation regions.