Own farms

Xoco Gourmet owns and operates its own farms in Central America. Our main farm in Nicaragua is designed as a modern fruit orchard with high density planting, irrigation, and spacing to allow a small tractor to move between the rows. We continuously monitor the plants, water, and soil to provide the trees with the nutrition they need.

We share the knowledge we develop with our partner farmers via our team of technicians. Pruning, irrigation, and nutrition are pivotal elements in ensuring a good harvest.
We have planted all our trees from a selection of high yielding, autocompatible trees. Our target yield is more than two tonnes of cacao per hectare, compared with the average smallholder farmer’s yield of around 400 kilos per hectare.

The farm is the only one of its kind in Central America and will serve as an example to show cacao farmers how to grow a single variety, flavour cacao more efficiently and in balance with nature.

We also operate farms where we monitor and develop new varieties. Different varieties are found in the wild, often in isolated groves where they have remained homogeneous, i.e., they have not crossbred with other flavour cacao trees. We first evaluate the variety: If we find that it has an exceptional “wow” flavour, we proceed to a monitoring phase where we check for disease resistance and yield.

Xoco Gourmet possède et exploite ses propres fermes
AGRICULTEURS PARTENAIRES xoco gourmet
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Partner farmers

In Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize we have planted Mayan Red cacao trees with our partner farmers. We take care of the grafting and early growth of the young cacao trees before they are sold and transported to the partner farmers.
We provide technical assistance to each farmer regarding planting, growing, and how to obtain a good harvest yield. When it is time for the harvest, we organise and collect the cacao beans. These sit inside a white pulp within the cacao pod. After harvesting, the pod is opened and the pulp with beans is extracted. The sugary sweet pulp is what ferments and thus indirectly ferments the beans. Upon collecting the beans in its pulp using sealed milk containers, we transport the beans to our fermentation and drying centres. Xoco conducts the fermentation, drying, and sorting of the beans.
Xoco pays the farmer a price that is substantially higher than the market price. In 2021, the average price paid was 1.5 x higher than the highest “fair trade” price and more than double the average local price.
We buy all the farmer’s cacao all year round, rain or shine, hurricanes, or pandemics, at the farm gate. This is different from traditional “fair trade” programmes, where only the cacao that can be resold by the buyer is purchased. There, the farmer is left to fend for themself with the remaining cacao.
Buying at the farm gate also eliminates any logistical issues preventing the farmer from getting to market. This is valuable in places where transportation is scarce, costly and difficult.
We are not providing a handout to poor farmers. We are paying partner farmers for a better product. Xoco takes on the market risk so the farmers can focus on growing.
Partner farmers are breaking the poverty cycle through the cacao they have on their farm. This means improved nutrition and health, having money to buy medicine and get to a doctor, and sending children to schools and universities. Our technical assistance programme also helps farmers modernise their farming techniques, which has a spill-over effect on other crops they may grow. Xoco’s approach is an example for the big chocolate industry:
The industry needs to up its game and become more involved in how cacao is grown. Cacao should be planted like any other fruit, for flavour and variety.
Industrials should make better chocolate that people are willing to pay more for. Farmers should grow better cacao and be compensated accordingly.
More than 150 partner farmers have planted Xoco varieties.

Farming

Cacao is a fruit tree – like an apple tree – and most of the farming principles for fruit trees are therefore identical for cacao.

The first principle is to plant the trees for flavour and variety. All fruit orchards are planted this way, except for cacao. Through its approach, Xoco is now changing this. This is key to improving the flavour in chocolate.

The principles for farming are also similar to those for all other fruit trees. Some of the more important elements of cacao farming are as follows:

Pruning is essential to encourage the tree to produce fruits, instead of growing big and sturdy. Pruning also ensures that the tree is kept low (under 2.5m tall) and balanced. The target is 3-4 producing branches, or 10 metres of producing branches. The harvest target is 22-30 fruits per tree per calendar year. On average, 22 fruits yields one kilo of cacao, which roughly translates into 1 kilo of 70% couverture. As rule of thumb, 2-3 fruits make a 100g chocolate bar.

Infield grafting is another technique used to augment production and income for farmers. Some trees may, for biological reasons, be more inclined to produce fruits than other trees. In such cases, the farmer needs to conduct infield grafting, taking branches or buds from the more fruit-yielding trees and grafting them onto less productive trees. Because the root system in the cases of mature trees is already working well, the time to production is considerably shorter than with new plantings.

To avoid competition for nutrients and minerals, weeding is essential. Smallholder farmers often spend 50-80% of their time on the cacao farm weeding with a machete. On Xoco’s farm in Nicaragua, weeding is mostly carried out by a mower behind a tractor, which is one example of how modern farming can improve efficiencies and farmer security.

Regulating the pH value of the soil is another essential element. If pH values are lower than 5, the trees are prevented from taking up nutrition. The remedy is to apply natural lime around the root system of every tree on the farm. More than half of the partner farmers had soil with pH values below 5 before this was remedied.

Cacao farming – except the initial planting for flavour and variety – does not influence the flavour (except potential errors in harvesting, e.g., harvesting a fruit that is not mature or opening pods much before collection). No hard studies have been conducted on the influence of the natural environment as this is difficult, due to all the variables implicated in the process from bean to chocolate. Soil conditions, altitude, and sunshine do not seem to affect the flavour of our single varieties in any detectable form. In other words, terroir does not seem to have an impact on the flavour in cacao. However, in the rainy season, the pod takes up more water which again affects the sugar level of the fermentation, which then needs to be corrected. Cacao trees do not care about human politics, and country origin per se has no influence on flavour.

The main source of flavour is the variety itself.

Xoco Gourmet possède et exploite ses propres fermes