Czech entrepeneur sees big gains in basing chocolate production in South America
Despite the commodity price slide of recent years, the price of cacao has risen steadily. It is partly what’s led Czech plantation entrepreneur Dennis Melka to put a 3,250-hectare plantation under development near Peru’s fifth-largest city, Iquitos. It stands to make Melka’s United Cacao the world’s largest single grower, albeit in a market dominated overwhelmingly by smallholder farms.
Melka, whose background is in palm oil, sees Peru as the answer to problematic production in West Africa. The region produces 70% of the world’s cacao, but has been prone to disease, drought and unrest, its industry beset by land-rights issues, use of child labour, state-buying monopolies and extortionate export taxes.
Melka talks of Peruvian yields of 2,500kg per hectare, compared with 500kg in West Africa. In addition, he told Peru’s Semana Económica magazine that transport costs from Peru to Asia are low. “Since Peru imports consumer goods, the containers return to Asia empty, so we can send cacao to Asia, the world’s fastest growing market, at low cost. While Africa exports to Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong at $3,500 per container, we can do it for $200. Also, Peru is the home of cocoa [where it’s indigenous] and has one of the lowest production costs in the world.”