Sweet success: Revitalizing cocoa production and export in São Tome and Principe

Susan Beccio, Photo Editor in IFAD’s Communications Division, is in São Tome and Principe this week, documenting IFAD-supported activities in the island nation off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. Here are some of her impressions, in words and pictures. 

All photos ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Solar drying of cocoa beans.
I shot the photos on this page during my visit to the Participatory Smallholder Agriculture and Artisanal Fisheries Development Programme. Cofinanced by IFAD and the French Agency for Development, the programme began in 2003 and is ongoing. Its most successful aspect has been the revitalization of cocoa production and export in São Tome and Principe.

More than a decade ago, cocoa producers here were suffering because of falling global prices for their exports. Many abandoned their plantations. But today, with support from IFAD and its partners, 1,800 small-scale producers have a total of about 2,400 hectares under cultivation for cocoa. They all belong to the Organic Cocoa Export Cooperative, and their cocoa is certified as organic or fair-trade for sale to the international chocolate industry. This is what a revitalized cocoa sector looks like....

Bagging the beans: The cocoa grows well in the shade forest that was planted many years ago by the 
Portuguese. It looks like a jungle and is full of bananas, coconuts, mangos, papaya and breadfruit. The 
terrain is very rough and uneven, not like you would imagine a plantation to be. It is naturally organic, so 
the local producers are able to tap into the organic and fair trade markets. 
The weighing station: The growers have learned to make the most of their three local cocoa varieties by
adapting sustainable breeding methods such as grafting. The farmers do what is called a ‘first drain’ to 
eliminate a portion of the moisture and ferment the cocoa beans. Then the beans are brought to the 
collection point in Monte Forte, where they are weighed, dried in solar driers, re-weighed and readied for 
export to France (certified organic for chocolate) and the United Kingdom (certified fair trade for cocoa 
powder drinks).  
Bags ready for export: The cocoa producers here only dry and ferment the beans – they do not process
them into cocoa powder or chocolate. But because they have teamed up in a larger cooperative and are 
able to sell internationally, they have made a lot of headway.