One of the most interesting chocolate bars I’ve tasted in the last couple of years was the Artisan du chocolat Vietnam 72%, which I actually preferred to many of the chocolate bars from more renowned cocoa producing countries such as Venezuela.
What isn’t actually all that well known is that cocoa production in the country actually began in 1878 when the French first introduced the crop. It wasn’t until 1994 when the economy was opened and removal on state controls on cocoa prices were removed that production began to rise. However, cocoa production still faces stiff competition for land and funding from other crops such as black pepper, rice, coffee, tea and rubber.
It was the support of the World Cocoa Foundation and a grant given to Nong Lam University which gave an extra impotus to production and interest to small farmholders that really helped bring Vietnam a bigger place on the world cocoa stage. Although the Vietnam government did seek to increase cocoa production as far back as 1980 with support from USAID, USDA, DANIDA and the huge Masterfoods company.
Today the campaign has been lagely successful in the twelve provinces targetted: Ba Ria Vung Tau, Binh Phuoc, Binh Thuan, Ben Tre, Can Tho, Dak Lak, Dong Nai, Dak Nong, Lam Dong, Phu Yen, Tien Giang, and Vinh Long with 5,252 local farmers and officials trained with the skills needed to make Vietnam a significant contributor to world cocoa production.
When you read stories of local cocoa farmers such as Mr. Trinh Van Thanh then you realise how important it is to support cocoa production from countries that aren’t blessed with support from the large multinational chocolate producers.
The Vietnamese chocolate I have comes from Trinitario beans made from trees planted as seedlings (originated from Malaysia) ten years ago in the Ba Ria Vung Tau Province which is East of Mekong Delta and nicely situatied by the sea (I must visit!). The cocoa is still conched when it reaches Kent which would obviously affect the flavour, but the local atmosphere, soil acidity particular provinence of the cocoa would all play a significant part in the overall flavour of the chocolate you’ll enjoy.
In 2007 the country was responsible for only 1,000 tons of cocoa with an aim for 15,000 tons this year, which, when compared to the 740,000 tons of cocoa produced by Ghana and 1,400,000 produced by Ivory Coast every year, you can understand that Vietnam has a long way to go to match their standing – although they do intend to increase this to around 100,000 by 2020 according to the WWF.
Currently most of the aid to Vietnamese cocoa production comes from the US Department of Agriculture and the Dutch. We should be doing more especially as they’re not long out of communist rule where crops such as cocoa weren’t really supported. What we can do is what the German Ritter company is doing by stating an interest in buying a set amount of organic certified cocoa from Vietnam annually.
Worth a read:
- India & Vietnam: Complex Cuisine – Gourmet – 2009
- Study on Suitability, Feasibility, and Socioeconomic Benefits of Cocoa in VietNam – 2007 PDF
- Vietnam aims for cocoa crop of 45,000 tonnes – Confectionary News 2007
- Vietnam launches into cocoa market – 2001
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Image © USAID