To lure young, choco­latiers sweet­en­ing co­coa farm­ing

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Yoga Rus­mana and Eko Lis­tiy­orini

The maker of choco­late M&M’s and Snick­ers sees a grow­ing risk on the hori­zon: slid­ing co­coa sup­ply from one of the world’s top grow­ers.

Thean­swer? Comic­sand WiFi. Mars Inc., maker of candy, is among firms try­ing to lure mil­len­ni­als into co­coa farm­ing in In­done­sia, where ag­ing planters, de­cay­ing trees, pests and dis­eases have de­pressed out­put so much that the na­tion has be­come a net im­porter. The hope is that the younger set, at­tracted by free in­ter­net, will get hooked on co­coa at themed cafes and be per­suaded to re­turn to the farms.

“We opened a cafe that has WiFi, and many pic­tures and ob­jects about co­coa farm­ing, and it’s at­tracted a lot of teenagers be­cause of the WiFi,” said Arie Nau­vel Iskan­dar, chair­man of the In­done­sia Co­coa As­so­ci­a­tion and di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate af­fairs at PT Mars Sym­bio­science In­done­sia. “It’s just one way to in­tro­duce young peo­ple to co­coa.”

The­as­so­ci­a­tion, whichis work­ing with Mars and other com­pa­nies to boost sup­ply, says out­put could rise 15 per­cent next year to 300,000 met­ric tons as trees planted in re­cent years ma­ture. To en­sure crop growth doesn’t flag af­ter that, a na­tional pro­gram will kick in to push out­put to 600,000 tons by 2024, said Iskan­dar. The plan aims not only to at­tract mil­len­ni­als, but make stronger clones and more fund­ing avail­able to curb pests and dis­eases, he said.

A crop of that size­would be large enough to meet ris­ing de­mand from do­mes­tic pro­ces­sors, and sup­ply the world mar­ket, said Iskan­dar. “With the best farm­ing prac­tices, men­tor­ing, proper fer­til­izer and the right plant­ing ma­te­ri­als, we’ll be able to meet the tar­get,” he said.

The in­creased out­put may go some way to ease choco­late mak­ers’ de­pen­dence on the world’s big­gest grow­ers, Ivory Coast and Ghana, as de­mand climbs in the next few years. The global choco­late con­fec­tionery mar­ket grew 2.5 per­cent in the nine months through April, ac­cord­ing to Barry Calle­baut, the top co­coa pro­ces­sor, in July, cit­ing data from an­a­lyt­ics fir­mNielsen.

“Many farm­ers send their chil­dren away to school, so they don’t fol­low in their fa­ther’s foot­steps be­cause they feel a farmer’s life is hard,” Iskan­dar said. “We have to give enough in­for­ma­tion to them and the mil­len­ni­als” to change that per­cep­tion, he said.

The na­tional pro­gram will be fi­nal­ized next year and start un­der the new ad­min­is­tra­tion in early 2020 at the lat­est, he said. In­done­sia holds pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in April.

Co­coa ar­eas have shrunk to about 1.3 mil­lion hectares as land is con­verted to res­i­den­tial or in­fra­struc­ture use, or farm­ers switch to more prof­itable crops such as palm oil, ac­cord­ing to Iskan­dar. The area was about 1.7 mil­lion hectares in 2010, the as­so­ci­a­tion said last year.

In­done­sia is the largest palm oil pro­ducer, ac­count­ing for about half of global sup­ply. While palm is grown mainly in Su­ma­tra and Kal­i­man­tan, there’s been a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of plan­ta­tions in Su­lawesi in the past few years, threat­en­ing cul­ti­va­tion of co­coa.

CLAIRE LEOW/BLOOMBERG

Farm­ers are taught to graft healthy saplings to co­coa trees in South Su­lawesi, In­done­sia.

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