When you think of quality chocolate, Swiss chocolate is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. The country is renowned for its premium standards, which are achieved by working with premium-quality cocoa. Few know this as well as Chocolats Halba, a manufacturer of high-quality chocolates that is part of the COOP supermarket chain. Since 2017, Rikolto has been working with Chocolats Halba to strengthen the inclusive business model of its supply chain in Honduras. While origin is important, it is not everything for the business.
For Rikolto, investing in opportunities for young people means investing in the future of our food systems: with innovation and new ideas. This is what we are doing in Honduras, providing young people with new knowledge, tools and equipment, and opportunities to influence their environment and their organisation. But valuing their role in the business and in the value chain is only the first step in intergenerational collaboration.
In 2022, Rikolto and the Chocolats Halba Foundation joined forces to professionalise 7 organisations in its supply chain. Between 2022 to 2026, we will improve the skills of more than 200 young fermentation technicians and producers who contribute to the quality of cocoa in Honduras. The initiative is part of our Sustainable Cocoa and Coffee Programme in Honduras, and co-financed by the Belgian Development Cooperation.
More and more young people are seeking a place in Honduras’ cocoa industry and production. Looking at the number of jobs for young people along the chain, many are temporary, but they are nevertheless essential to maintaining the quality of cocoa. Young people provide services in cocoa growing areas where farm labour is declining, such as working in nurseries, providing grafting and pruning services, applying fertiliser, working as harvesters and fermenters, etc. These jobs also make a difference in a context where many low-income youth choose to migrate in search of better employment and training opportunities.
In 2023, we will train 30 young people, and support the creation of youth-run businesses that will provide services to producers who are in the Chocolats Halba’s supply chain. We will start with three cooperatives and extend the initiative to others in 2024.
"We believe in the importance of strengthening the human capital of producer organisations. We focus our efforts on strengthening the participation of young people and women in the professionalisation processes. By offering services, and through differentiated prices and inclusive markets for other products grown in agroforestry systems, they can earn a decent income."
Older farmers find it difficult to carry out some farm management practices and struggle to find labour to carry them out. Often organisations have no or insufficient staff to provide this type of service to their members. This provides an opportunity for young people to earn an alternative income.
Thanks to the young people trained by the cooperatives, farmers can now pay for farm management services or have the costs deducted from the sale of their cocoa. The cooperatives are now in the process of formalising these services. By next year, more teams will be trained to provide extension services.
But training alone is not enough. The programme guarantees the supply of equipment so that young people (from the community and the chain) have all the tools they need to maintain the cocoa farms. And there is more. In their role as entrepreneurs, they will become non-financial service providers who will be required to participate in the regional committees of the National Committee of the Cocoa Chain. "Given the shortage of technicians in the cocoa-producing organisations, their experience in the field will give us a different perspective on the main problems in the intervention zones," explains Zamora.
Within the producer organisations, young people are also protagonists of a change that responds to the demand for high quality cocoa and the constant renewal of quality protocols.
Young cocoa fermenters and tasters are not just the new face of the business: they are the new quality assessors of a complex product that is central to improving the incomes of farming communities. They need to gain a deep understanding of the production process, beyond their own role. For example, for a fermenter, knowing the protocols for tasting cocoa will allow him or her to standardise the protocols for fermenting and drying processes.
Back in 2022, young people linked to the Chocolats Halba chain discovered that some of cocoa's best-kept secrets lie in the post-harvest and tasting phases. The programme provided the producer organisations with specialised equipment (scales, moisture meters, pH meters, thermometers, etc.) and trained 20 young fermenters to carry out appropriate quality controls using sensory analysis. Ely López, a fermenter from APROCAGUAL, participated in this process and is part of the National Tasting Panel of Honduras.
"The training has helped us a lot to achieve better results in each process, from the beginning of post-harvest to processing, in order to deliver a quality product to the market."
Oscar Vaquedano, Purchasing Manager at Chocolats Halba, points out that it is essential to understand the relationship between post-harvest and quality. "The young people in charge of fermentation issues may know the process, but without further training it is difficult for them to assess the quality of their product in detail. If the standard is not met, they need to know why and what needs to be done to improve it".
These efforts are in line with the comprehensive business improvement plan developed by Rikolto and Chocolats Halba. The teams are also made aware of the new regulations introduced by the European Union's Green Pact and discuss issues such as organic and fair trade certification standards.
With the Halba Foundation, we are updating the knowledge of everyone involved in the certification process. Managers, board members, administrators and inspectors took part in the process, because having up-to-date criteria can mean the difference between renewing an international certification or not. In 2022, some 34 young people learned more about this. "The workshops are enriching. Problems can creep up and even lead to the suspension of certifications," adds Nadya Castillo of the Chocolats Halba Foundation.
Find out how young people are the protagonists of a change in Honduras’ cocoa sector, through the support of Rikolto and Chocolats Halba:
Do you want to know more? Contact: Lourdes Zamora firstname.lastname@example.org