Helia Moura is proud of how important cocoa from the Amazon became in the last years (personal archive)

Cocoa from Pará conquers the world

By becoming the main producer in the country, Pará stands out not only for the volume of production, but also for the rich bank of genetic material of the fruit, with more than two thousand different genotypes in the Amazon

Eduardo Laviano

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (UFPA/ET-Multi)


Despite being originally from the Amazon, for many decades cocoa was synonymous with Bahia, a state in the northeastern region of Brazil that led the production of the fruit without competition. 

In recent years, however, Pará has consolidated itself as the main producer in the country, not only because of the quantity, which, in 2022, reached 50.68% of all the Brazilian production, but also because the state is the largest bank of genetic material of cocoa in the world, with more than two thousand different genotypes.

While the average yield of cocoa per hectare is 469 kilos considering the entire Brazilian territory, in Pará, the figures reach 948 kilos, thanks to a convergence of ideal conditions for production in the state.

Hélia Moura closely witnessed each step of the growth of cocoa in the Amazon. In 1996, she married a farmer who already worked with fruit production. 

She left Manaus, Amazonas, where she used to live towards Medicilândia, in southwest Pará. 

She felt very inspired by her husband, a man she describes as very curious and eager for knowledge, despite being illiterate. 

Her involvement with the cocoa plantation grew stronger and, in 2006, she decided to study Agronomy at the Federal University of Pará.

Today, Hélia is responsible for running the Transamazônica Agroindustrial Cooperative, which, in 2014, launched the Cacauway brand. 

Cacauway produces chocolate with raw material extracted from municipalities along the BR-230 highway. 

Medicilândia, alone, is responsible for 30% for the production in Pará – around 70,000 tons of cocoa beans per year. 

The 40 members of Transamazônica Agroindustrial Cooperative have the capacity to produce 600 thousand tons per year.

"Some time ago, people thought the cocoa from Pará was not of good quality. This has fallen to the ground. Today, it is synonymous with excellence and the chocolate from Pará is dominating the contests. It is the reflection of a lot of work, because we are looking more and more attentively for the quality of the product, applying processes, testing new things. We have a wide range of varieties that bring a wonderful terroir that only exists here", says the producer.

Robson Brogni is also a producer in Medicilândia who manages the Ascurra farm alongside his wife Sarah. 

In 1985, Sarah's father, Belmiro, already had more than 9,500 cocoa trees planted in his property, which he bought with a lot of sweat, after years saving money as a banana freighter to Belém. 

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“Technically speaking, it has already been proven that the great differential of cocoa from Pará is the high concentration of butter”, points out Robson

With the support of his wife, Denilze, the business grew and, in 2023, the family's properties total more than 280,000 cocoa trees.

Today, they have their own brand of chocolates and specialize in fine almonds awarded throughout Brazil. 

"Technically speaking, it has already been proven that the great differential of cocoa from Pará is the high concentration of butter, with percentages above 50%. In the Transamazônica region, this percentage approaches 60%. This greatly values ​​our cocoa in terms of quality ", points out Robson.

Production method makes the difference in Pará

According to producer Robson Brogni, fine cocoa requires a special handling protocol from harvest to storage. 

The counterpart is the design of a product with high added value compared to conventional cocoa, which generates a financial advance that can reach up to 100% more in the final price.

Until today, the Executive Committee of the Cocoa Crop Plan, linked to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, distributes seeds to farmers for the production of nurseries. 

This practice has received strong incentives over the last 50 years and was responsible for start of the cocoa plantation in the region of the Transamazon Highway.

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At four years of age, cacao trees begin to bear fruit, but it becomes edible only at the age of seven (Courtesy: Helia Moura)

After six months in nursery, they can be taken to the field for commercial planting, with a spacing of three by three meters, in a way that, each hectare holds a thousand plants, considering spaces for branches, where producers and machines pass.

At four years old, the cacao trees begin to bear fruit, but they only become economically viable at seven years old.

In addition, temporary shading provided by banana trees is necessary, which ends up generating extra income for farmers, as bunches of bananas begin to appear after a year of planting.

Another technique, the seminal system, has been in use for 10 years in the region. The seedlings are grafted, that is, genetically modified with different tissues, creating new plants and increasing the yield according to the variety of the species that the producer prefers. 

"They are similar processes, but with modified DNA. The farmer wants a more profitable variety, with more volume. But, as an industry, we want a sweeter and less acidic variation. All of this is calculated. Many people insist on planting cocoa in open sunlight, but the Amazonian cacao tree lives under the forest. The cacao tree in open sunlight is more productive, but it generates more costs from the point of view of sanitary control than one planted in an agroforestry system. In addition to banana trees, there are many experiences of associated crops, including cocoa with açaí", says producer Hélia Moura.

Sustainability is an ally of producers in the region

Nowadays, Hélia sees the fact that there are other alternatives to the system known as “cabruca” as positive. It was not itinerant and consisted of cutting down the forest so that cocoa could be planted.

 "Now cocoa has nothing to do with deforestation anymore. That was 50 years ago. Today, cocoa works as a replacement for the forest. Farmers even transform pastures into areas for cocoa cultivation. The scenario has changed", says Hélia, excited with the Easter egg sales, which triple the cooperative's turnover and guarantee a reserve of resources for the months of lower demand

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The Amazonian cocoa tree lives under the forest shade, generating a sweeter and less acidic variation (Courtesy: Helia Moura)

Robson Brogni agrees that cocoa plays an important role for the forest preservation. He recalls it is a crop that does not expose the soil and also helps to collect carbon dioxide. 

"And a large part of the workforce comes from family farming, a kind of working directly attached to sustainability. The main companies that buy cocoa are paying close attention to the sustainable aspect of the producing farms", he says.

However, he points out that fluctuations in the cocoa price are challenging. 

"Cocoa almonds, like all commodities, depend on local and global factors to set up at a price, established by the daily fluctuation of the dollar and the New York stock exchange, that is, the cocoa producer does not determine the sale price of the product, even with the very frequently price raising of raw materials and workforce in recent times", he evaluates.

Brazil begins to fulfill increasing world demand

Brazil is not self-sufficient in terms of cocoa production, thus it is necessary to import raw materials to meet national demand. 

Therefore, the New York stock exchange is the reference to set prices and pairing with the international market. 

At the end of 2022, cocoa prices increased, resulting in a raising of 3.04% of contracts expiring in March 2023, so prices reached US$ 2,606 per ton of cocoa almond. 

This is evidence of the high demand for the product and that, according to economist Caio Santos, was enhanced by a shortage of raw materials in 2022. 

There was a deficit of 230 thousand tons in the world, that is, humanity is producing much less cocoa than is consumed.

Santos points out some factors: the main responsible for this production are African countries where there were productivity problems, related to the lower use of fertilizers, whose prices increased.

Ghana, the second largest producer in the world, is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. In addition, the world is going through a demand recovery process.

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Santos is a cocoa-related risk management consultant for a financial service company (Courtesy/Stone X)

"In 10 years, we expect demand to continue expanding, as it is parallel to the demographic growth. There are still many places in the world without chocolate and as urbanization moves on, the demand tends to increase. And since 2020, we've had the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and China was stopped for a long time due to the covid-19. All this results in a very high increase of the cocoa price", he says.

Santos is a cocoa-related risk management consultant for a financial service company.

According to Caio, these factors could open doors for cocoa from the Amazon. Brazil is the eighth largest cocoa producer in the world. 

In comparison, Ivory Coast [Côte d'Ivoire] produces ten times more than the entire Brazilian territory.

Brazil, however, is considered as an advantageous region for the expansion of cocoa production, due to the much better conditions compared to the African countries, which are responsible for 70% of world production. 

This is because the Amazon has ideal conditions for production. In addition, production conditions in Africa are very precarious and there are reports of child labor use and illegal deforestation there.

"The world wants to reduce this dependence on Africa, as companies are pressured to fight against it. In Brazil, as there is much better structure than in African countries, it is supposed that production can grow in a more sustainable way, with better control of deforestation, proper treatment on the land, and greater control of social issues through legislation and inspection. There is huge international interest and it keeps raising", he says.

Amazon cocoa reaches international heights

When he created the Chocolat Festival in 2009, in Bahia, Marco Lessa felt that the potential of Brazilian cocoa deserved more attention and prestige. 

At the time, Bahia was the main producer of cocoa in Brazil and was facing a severe crisis due to the witches' broom, a parasitic pest that devastated a large part of the planted area in the state and dropped production from 400,000 to 90,000 tons per year.

"Our goal was to design a platform for everyone to get to know cocoa, to encourage the verticalization of production and add value, promoting tourism also around production, presenting cocoa as a cultural value of our identity", he says.

Since then, the festival has grown and gained more and more international interest.

In 2013, the festival landed in Pará and, in 2022, an edition was held in Altamira. 

An international edition, with the aim of introducing Brazilian cocoa to Europe, was held in Portugal.

Since the beginning of the festival, more than 300 chocolate brands have already been created in Brazil. Interest in seeds from the Amazon is constantly growing, according to Lessa.

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 Marco Lessa felt that the potential of Brazilian cocoa deserved more attention and prestige (Personal archive)

"The Amazon has a very strong marketing appeal, but printing the word “Amazon” on the package is not enough. Cocoa helps to keep the forest standing and there is production by indigenous and riverside peoples. It's a social aspect that the world needs to learn, understand and value. We have unique characteristics in the Trans-Amazon floodplain cocoa, with a very unique flavor. The characteristics of the biome give Amazon cocoa a unique flavor. Cocoa has been domesticated for 5,000 years and it is produced as an agricultural crop for 300 years, but in just a decade, with the support of universities, governments, the press, we promoted a transformation in the production and industrialization of cocoa in the region. The numbers doubled in Pará, with more than 50 brands of chocolates produced", he highlights.

For Hélia Moura, witnessing everything that cocoa from the Amazon has become in recent years is a reason for pride. 

"Cocoa represents life. It is the families’ income, they feel motivated to stay in the countryside, acting like real guardians of the forest. Cocoa has taken us to horizons we’ve never imagined reaching. And we are just getting started".