Certification of young people's skills: a new standard in cocoa?

Certification of young people's skills: a new standard in cocoa?

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Four years ago, captivated by the flavours of cocoa and chocolate, members of the Youth Committee of the Peruvian farmer organisation Pangoa wanted to specialise in those areas. Today they can be recognised as tasters of cocoa paste and liquor and certified specialists in post-harvesting and quality control by the National System for the Evaluation, Accreditation and Certification of Quality Education (Sineace).

José Luis Arroyo says that obtaining this certification has opened his eyes: "It has helped me to understand what type of cocoa the industry demands and what type of clients we need to look after".

Mijael Caysahuana says: "With this certification, I learned to love the world of cocoa even more."

In 2019, both were part of the first graduation of young people of the Standard of Competence "Cocoa Paste or Cocoa Liqueur Taster". The programme is organised by the Peruvian Association of Cocoa Producers (Appcacao), in alliance with the Pangoa cooperative located in Junín, and with the technical support of Rikolto.

What impact did the certification have on the young people's professional lives, and what is the footprint these new professionals are leaving in cooperatives like Pangoa? Find out more in this article.

Skills that make a difference

José Luis came to Pangoa 10 years ago to do an internship while he was studying agronomy and stayed there. Today, at the age of 30, he works in the farmer organisation as an administrator of the coffee and cocoa committees and provides technical support to farmers. This certification made him confident to talk with the farmers and guide them to achieve the perfect cocoa bean.

"I am an agronomist by profession, and this certification complements my work in the cooperative since I learned how a good fine-flavoured and fermented cocoa should be," he says.

Since obtaining the certification, José Luis has participated in national and international events with consumers and tasters, to teach about the physical and organoleptic qualities of native cocoa and chocolate.

"At the beginning, it's a bit scary because you face the public and experts in the sector. Then you gain confidence," says José Luis. He is also a taster at the regional stage of one of the National Quality Cocoa Competitions.

Mijael, is a food industry engineer and president of the cooperative's youth committee.

"Having a certificate from the government counts more" says Mijael, 28, who is now a food industry engineer and president of the cooperative's youth committee. Becoming certified helped him in his current job in a Peruvian government agency.

As a quality technician at Devida (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo y Vida sin Drogas), Mijael is involved in the processing and development of coffee and cocoa products in his native province Satipo - the largest and most eastern province in the Junín Region, located in the central Amazon rainforest of Peru.

The expectation is that the participants of these training, as well as the certified young people, will have better job opportunities in the cooperatives or companies that employ them and in their enterprises.

New specialists in the industry

For certification, it is necessary to test the know-how on the characteristics of cocoa nibs and how to assess the quality of the paste after roasting, dehulling, grinding and milling. A growing number of people are interested in training in post-harvest cocoa and cocoa tasting. The Standard of Competence "Cocoa Mass or Cocoa Liquor Taster" comprises three units: sampling and preservation of cocoa, preparation of cocoa mass and sensory evaluation. The evaluations are carried out by certifying entities authorised by Sineace. Appcacao is one of them.

Energising the sector with a young Spark

Teófilo Beingolea, project coordinator at Rikolto in Peru, says that the certification is a recognition for young people and contributes to involving them in the chain, in addition to benefiting the production of fine aroma native cocoa in Junín.

"The average age of the members of a cooperative like Pangoa is over 58. There is an urgent need to work on the inclusion of young people to strengthen the technical teams, especially in quality control, thereby helping to position and increase competitiveness in differentiated markets".

"Pangoa stands out in the Junín region for its differentiated offer, its seals and its quality. Its customers require a specific profile of the cocoa bean, and to meet this demand, the cooperative must know the market and have qualified personnel," says Luis Mendoza, manager of Appcacao.

The certified young people also participated as judges in the National Quality Cocoa Competitions promoted by the national association. This way, local talent gains experience.

Expanding the spark

Since the training programme (leading to certification) started in 2017 the results have been shared by Rikolto and Appcacao with multi-stakeholder projects and spaces:

  • 2018: the experience was presented at the Mesa Técnica Regional de Cacao de Junín. Based on this, government initiatives such as the Pichis Palcazú Special Project trained and evaluated 70 young people from the central jungle, certifying 40 of them.
  • 2019: Accredited young people from the Satipo area participated as judges for the sensory analysis of samples in the XIII National Quality Cocoa Competition, organised by Appcacao, Midagri and the Regional Cocoa Technical Board in Junín.
  • 2020: Rikolto, Appcacao and Progreso (Piura) implement a virtual training and preparation programme for accreditation, aimed at young producers who are members of cooperatives, professionals from the public and private sector.

The Pangoa cooperative currently has 60 young people trained in cocoa quality control, who aspire to become certified to the Sinace standard. About 15% have been integrated into leadership roles in the cooperative, and others are working in their family enterprises producing chocolate.

Getting more young people interested in the cocoa chain has also allowed them to connect with "Bean to Bar" chocolatiers, the most demanding in the European, Latin American and US markets. Thanks to their efforts, they are better positioned for Pangoa's fine native cocoa, preserving the biodiversity of the cocoa.

Investing in young people is a seed that bears fruit. With new skills, the cooperative's young people promote a culture of quality in the chain and ensure a decent income for 680 member families.

Collaboration | Writing: Alejandra Visscher (consultant) | Edition: Natalia Palomino (Rikolto)

Do you want to know more about this project? Contact our colleague:

Teófilo Beingolea
Teófilo Beingolea
Coordinador de proyectos de cacao y café | Perú