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Global expansion of single-origin Sri Lankan chocolate a major struggle: Mendis

16 April 2024 04:00 am - 12     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Chocolatier Mendis points out shortage of cocoa beans and poor cooperation of authorities as key challenges
  • Urges authorities to focus on growing cocoa
  • Says local growers stand to gain higher prices, due to limited availability of cocoa globally

By Nishel Fernando

Sri Lanka’s celebrity chocolatier, chef and agriculture enthusiast Gerard Mendis faces an uphill battle in his bid to take single-origin Sri Lankan chocolates global. This is primarily due to the shortage of cocoa beans and absence of active cooperation of authorities. 

“In Sri Lanka, we have our own cocoa beans but we don’t have a sufficient quantity to cater to the demand of the local market. I took some (local) cocoa beans to a factory in Switzerland. Their feedback was that it (Sri Lankan cocoa) was one of the best they had ever tried and were keen on getting more. Unfortunately, we don’t have the quantity,” Mendis told Mirror Business. 

Mendis shared that the authorities are yet to show any indications of active cooperation in reviving the domestic coca supply, to tap into the export potential.  “I went and spoke to the Export Development Board. We had a meeting with all of their directors. I requested them to share the database of all growers, so we can approach them. Up to date, we haven’t heard anything from them on this,” he added. 

While Sri Lanka once boasted about the thriving cocoa estates, many have disappeared over the years. As a result, the local producers, even those serving the domestic market, are compelled to import part of their supply from Africa and Southeast Asia. “I am a chocolatier; I have to import the base, to make my chocolates, from Switzerland or Belgium. All those countries get their cocoa beans from Ghana, Madagascar and Java, as Europe doesn’t grow cocoa,” noted Mendis.

With the rising prices and limited availability, Mendis highlighted that the Sri Lankan growers stand to gain higher prices.

“Chocolate is considered to be one of the most consumed products at the moment. They can’t cope with the global demand. If we have enough beans, there will be people fighting to buy them,” he added.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe early this year urged the stakeholders to explore inter-cropping with cocoa, particularly in identified areas such as Matale, Kandy, Mawathagama and Dodangaslanda and encouraged collaboration with the smallholders.

He shared that the government plans to collaborate with the smallholders and discussions with the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast, for access to cocoa. However, no progress has been made in this regard as yet.

Addressing the Lanka Confectionary Manufacturers Association Annual General Meeting in January, Wickremesinghe called on the industry to actively look at exporting chocolates and expressed confidence in Sri Lanka delivering a world-class product. 

  Comments - 12

  • Umar Perera Tuesday, 16 April 2024 08:32 AM

    Cocoa and chocolate are indulgences. They are not necessities. Also, cocoa farming uses a lot of water which is an issue in a drying planet. It also involves forest degradation which we cannot afford any more because our forests are already depleted. Re-think, Mr Mendis.

    Jeanne Wednesday, 17 April 2024 04:46 AM

    @Umar : Indulgences? For whom? Did you not grow up loving chocolate? Cocoa in its purest form is one of the strongest and most effective anti oxidants for your body. Mr Mendis hasn't had the chance to even explore that facet due to his requests being ignored by authorities. The cocoa estates are already there - they just aren't being utilised to their full capacity or potential. So, your issue of deforestation is void. Thing bigger Umar. This could actually provide employment and export opportunities for Sri Lanka. At the moment all we are exporting are trained human resources - for which we receive ZERO return. The chocolate trade on the other hand will be a different story.

    Shahid Tuesday, 16 April 2024 09:55 AM

    As a country with limited arable land, we cannot grow each and every crop we fancy. The government controls the use of paddy and coconut lands (maybe some others too), but apart from that, we should allow market forces to govern which crops farmers grow. Have we asked ourselves what the opportunity cost of growing cacao at scale is?

    NV Jen Tuesday, 16 April 2024 12:52 PM

    Looks like EDB stands for Exports Discouragement Board!

    Jayanta a k Thursday, 18 April 2024 07:58 PM

    Is the Export Dev Board just another of the many Govt Organizations providing political incompetants with Jobs? There's a world shortage of Cocoa right now! The expertise of people like Mr Mendis should be considered.

    Shera Tuesday, 16 April 2024 01:43 PM

    Sri Lanka is blessed with amazing soil which provides excellent crops regardless of what is grown. Unfortunately, we cannot meet the demand of anything locally grown even for our own consumption. It is just poor planning and the convenience of importing everything, that limits productivity and progress.

    Nothing is impossible Tuesday, 16 April 2024 04:19 PM

    Barriers are there to be overcome. We need an energetic Prime Minister (like late president Ranasinghe Premadasa) who always came up with out if the box solutions. The army has an agriculture security unit. without thinking too big for the moment the govt should look at giving the existing growers extra land on lease to double their crops. bank loans and technology etc to be supported.

    Leonard Pali Tuesday, 16 April 2024 04:52 PM

    It's true. Nothing is impossible on our blessed land. Government owns millions of bare lands around the country. Why cannot research and find where the suitabke areas for various cultivation. Look what happened to Cloves and Cardamonthey are expensive same as gold.

    Kavinda Gihan Wednesday, 17 April 2024 12:13 AM

    There is another problem Sri Lankan cocoa farmers faced was the brown macaque and giant squirrels. These creatures are responsible for destroying almost 50% of the remaining crops.

    Bandula Thursday, 18 April 2024 12:42 PM

    I just wonder why people are so negative. At one time we were a country producing cocoa in a large scale. Kandos chocalates was the first locally produced and could compete with any brand. Local industry was killed by open economy. We still import chocalates even from India while iis possible to make better chocalates with the high quality of our cocoa. Its time the authorities get down to doing something useful to the country by mee with the cocoa growers.

    S. deMel Thursday, 18 April 2024 01:33 PM

    Negativity is character trait of most. At least the growing cocoa provide employment

    Jayanta Thursday, 18 April 2024 07:52 PM

    Highly negative and ill informed comments about Cocoa. If chocolate is an "indulgence", what are Cut Flowers, aren't they export products? There's a worldwide shortage of cocoa at present and we should fill the gap

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