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The 2019 International Cocoa Award winners!

The Cocoa of Excellence Programme celebrates and values cocoa beans and the hard work of cocoa farmers worldwide. Credit: Bioversity International/X. Scheldemann

The global competition, held at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, celebrates the diversity of cocoa flavours and recognizes the skills and know-how of the men and women who produce it.

Paris, Salon du chocolat – Following a selection and evaluation process of 223 cocoa samples submitted from 55 countries, 50 entrants shortlisted for the 2019 Edition of the International Cocoa Awards (ICA) waited with anticipation to hear the results. Read on to find out who the 20 winners are and why these awards matter for the future of our chocolate supply.

On 30 October, during an exclusive evening ceremony attended by over 500 cocoa and chocolate professionals, the 20 International Cocoa Award winners were celebrated at the Salon du Chocolat, Paris, shining the international spotlight on the work of cocoa farmers and the diversity of cocoa around the world. Every two years, the Cocoa of Excellence (CoEx) Programme, spearheaded by Bioversity International (now the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT) and Salon du Chocolat, recognizes quality, flavour and diversity of cocoas according to their origin. Cocoa diversity is vital for production, as it provides the different flavours, resistance to pests and diseases, as well as resilience in climate changes. Providing incentives for safeguarding cocoa diversity to farmers and national organizations ensures a portfolio of options remain available for the future.

"The most remarkable evolution of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme is the enthusiasm of the cocoa producing countries to participate in greater numbers every edition. We started this great adventure in 2009 with 20 countries and today we have 55 countries and hope that at the next Edition in 2021 we will reach 70.  We are entering a new era for cacao that makes us discover all the potential and the pleasures that its genetic diversity, its environment, its culture, and the know-how of all these women and men that grow cocoa and upon which their prosperity depends."  Brigitte Laliberté, Cocoa of Excellence Programme Coordinator, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

The Cocoa of Excellence Programme is the entry point for cocoa producing countries to participate in the International Cocoa Awards. This year we celebrate its 10th Anniversary. Over this past decade, it continues to increase awareness and promote education along the cocoa supply chain about the opportunity to produce high quality cocoa and the need to preserve flavours resulting from genetic diversity, the terroir and the know-how of the farmers who prepare cocoa. This unique international programme celebrates and values cocoa beans and the work of the cocoa farmers. They are the ones recognized on the international stage.

For the 2019 Edition, the Cocoa of Excellence Programme received 223 samples of cocoa beans, originating from 55 countries. After a detailed physical quality evaluation, the beans were carefully processed into liquor for blind sensory evaluation by the Cocoa of Excellence Programme Technical Committee, a panel of international cocoa and chocolate experts. Following this evaluation and a robust data analysis, the best 50 samples were selected and processed into chocolate (following the same recipe of 66% cocoa) for sensory evaluation. This evaluation included 35 experts from a broad range of professions - from chocolatiers to chocolate sensory evaluation experts - from 12 countries including Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

Jury members have expressed in a recent opinion survey if that the main reason to take part in this blind evaluation is the simple curiosity to explore the diversity and unique flavours of these cocoas without pre-conceived ideas, as countries and regions are not revealed. Many mentioned believing strongly in the vision and objectives of the CoEx Programme and are proud to be part of this prestigious international competition solely dedicated to cacao. Most attended the ICA Ceremony and are visiting our stand at the Salon du Chocolat.

"The 2019 Edition of Cocoa of Excellence submissions were of exceptional quality, collected from diverse regions of the world, making it challenging for the Technical Committee to select the best samples. The general public may view the percentage label of cocoa on a chocolate bar as a representation of its quality, however we understand the hard work and attention given by the farmers in growing quality beans. The perfect expression of aromas and tastes flows out of the cocoa samples, and it has been a true honour to experience and evaluate the artistry and diversity of these beans."  Ed Seguine, Cacao, Cocoa and Chocolate Advisors/Guittard Chocolate, Chair of the Technical Committee, and co-founder of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme.

In each producing country, the participation in ICA is coordinated by a national committee, well connected to producers. Such focal points are key to a well-functioning Programme since they are responsible to invite producers, selecting the best cocoa beans and sending them to Bioversity International. The coordination at national level also means an engagement and commitment to improving the process, edition after edition.

"A lot of improvements were made between 2009 and 2013 in the case of Brazil and today we have a well-coordinated national selection with clear rules and good feedback from the producers that come from all the different cocoa producing regions of the country. The initiative awakens and motivates producers to do something different and discover the real value of cocoa. When we were told that two samples were part of the best 50 for the 2019 Edition, we were really proud as these cocoa beans come from two very different regions: the State of Pará, with proximity to the Amazon forest, and Bahia by the Mata Atlantica. We are happy and cheering for the Brazilian cocoa sample to win, showing the world the terroir, excellence, flavours and aromas of our cocoa." Neyde Alice Bello, Comissão Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueira - CEPLAC, National Coordination Committee of the CoEx Programme in Brazil.  

The CoEx Programme stimulates the sector in up and coming origins through the organisation of national cocoa competitions. More and more countries celebrate quality and excellence at the national level, boosting greater participation and connections between producers, buyers and manufacturers at national level to bring more of the value added at origin. The producers in the best 50 and those winning an International Cocoa Award can play a strong role as quality champions in their cocoa communities. This is the case of Mr Jose Saguban, from the Philippines. Mr Saguban received a lot of support from his country since he was informed that he was part of the best 50 samples in the world for this 2019 Edition.

"Mr Jose Saguban has become a real inspiration for many of our small cocoa farmers in the Philippines. The local people in our area, including the media and the Government offices, are very proud of Mr Jose Saguban for he is now the inspiration of our small farmers. His face is everywhere in the newspapers, not only in the local but also in the national papers. With his achievement, Government offices offered assistance in the form of a loan to improve his farm and the farms nearby. Indeed, a celebration for small and diversified farming. We organized a delegation of more than 20 individuals to participate in the Salon du Chocolat and witness the celebration of Philippine's cacao as one of the 50 best in the world. We will celebrate not only Mr Saguban but the whole cacao industry in the Philippines. We thank the Cocoa of Excellence Programme for giving us this opportunity to produce the best cacao beans in the same time conserving our environment. Philippines will push for a biodiverse cacao farming system." Valente Turtur, Chairperson of the Philippine Cacao Industry Council and President of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao.

"For many participating cocoa producers, the International Cocoa Awards are the Cocoa Olympics," stated Chris Jahnke from Australian Chocolate Pty Ltd.  While N'Koh Ambroise of Côte d’Ivoire said: "I participate because, with my passion and know-how, I am one of the best cocoa farmers in the world and I have to go through this 'royal' way to be known from all those participating in the cocoa value chain." For Shadel Nyack Compton, from Belmont Estate, Grenada: "We participated in the CoEx Programme to give further recognition and validation to the high-quality cocoa that we produce here on the island of Grenada and also to encourage our young people to become cocoa farmers and cocoa entrepreneurs. We are indeed thrilled by the news of being selected among the best 50. Thank you so much for the opportunity. It means a lot for us, for Grenada and of course for our farmers and community. We are excited and looking forward to the ICA awards in October."

The families of these proud cocoa producers share the excitement. Cruz María, the aunt of Gustavo Díaz Cruz from Puerto Rico, selected as one of the best 50, shared with us: "We have received with great pleasure the news that our nephew, Gustavo Díaz, was selected among one of the best 50 cocoa farmers! This is such an important recognition for our family, since he is a young cocoa producer in Puerto Rico that was not intimidated by the vast devastation that Hurricane María caused in the country and, in particular, in his small farm. As soon as the strong hurricane winds subsided, he and his family struggled to get the cocoa trees up, so that they could recuperate. Therefore, for our family, this recognition is extremely important, for it is also a recognition of his resilience and courage."

Casey Keiderling of Emmoní, in Bolivia, said she was very grateful and proud of being part of the best 50 and thanked Bioversity International and the NGOs in Bolivia that fight to promote cacao of excellence. Almost 100 people from the local communities of Baures and Huacaraje participated in collecting this wild cacao; they are part of this success and are all very proud.

From these best 50 entrants, 20 International Cocoa Awards were selected and celebrated during the ceremony held today at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, France. Cocoa producing countries travelled to Paris in delegations to attend the ceremony. They visited the Cocoa of Excellencestand and met with the Coordination Team, as well as with the organisers and partners. They could taste chocolate from all the best 50 cocoa beans samples, including theirs. For many of them it was the first time that they tasted chocolate made from their own beans and meet with buyers and chocolate makers.

"This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Salon du Chocolat and we are delighted to have worked with Bioversity International over the past ten years in gathering the world's top chocolate makers, producers and international experts who can critically evaluate the qualitative aspects of cocoa. Thank you to all those who have participated, and a special congratulations to the winners."  François Jeantet, Creator of the Salon du Chocolat and co-organiser of the Cocoa of Excellence Programme.

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