Benns Chocolate, Malaysian Cocoa Board working together to make farmers’ lives better

Cocoa production is essential to the worldwide chocolate business, yet many farmers struggle with problems that harm their ability to make a living.

Aini Awi and Siti Fatimah Khamis were among those who found it tough to make ends meet, but yesterday, the cocoa farmers had a glimpse of a brighter future.

The duo were part of an eight-team delegation of farmers from Kesang Laut in the southern state of Johor, who attended the launch of Benns Chocolate’s single-origin Malaysian-made chocolates at its factory in Cheras, some 25km outside the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

The other farmers were Abd Rashid Rusli, Mt Isa Mohd, Norhayati Ab Rahman, Tee Giok Ha, Sulaiman Saamah, and Hasrinah Itnin.

“We have been farming for nearly 20 years, and the profit margin is low,” said Aini.

“However, things are looking up now that Benns Chocolate and Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) are helping us.

“We are grateful for the opportunity as it means a brighter future for our families. We also want to prove that Malaysian cacao is of high quality.”

Cacao refers to the raw material, beans that are harvested from the cacao tree. Cocoa is created after the beans are finely ground into a powder and roasted.

MCB is collaborating with Benns Chocolate to support local farmers while encouraging and assisting them in elevating the quality of domestic cacao beans.

Benns Chocolate can pay the farmers more for their beans by manufacturing large quantities of single-origin chocolates.

The usual price for cacao beans is around RM8.50 per kilogramme, but single-origin beans can fetch between RM15 and RM25 per kilogramme, depending on the quality.

To encourage the 6,000 farmers to participate in the single-origin bean market, MCB works with them to modernise their farming methods to grow beans of a higher quality.

Siti Fatimah added that she was thankful to be part of the project, as it has given her a new lease of life.

“It is not easy being a cacao farmer. It takes up most of our time,” she said.

“This project is still new, but we are seeing the benefits. Benns Chocolate and MCB are making our lives better while creating high-quality chocolate.

“We are honoured to be part of the launch. Benns Chocolate and MCB did not have to invite us, but they did, and we feel special and appreciated.”

Wilfred Ng, managing director of Benns Chocolate, said the new line of single-source chocolates evokes and celebrates Malaysian cacao and flavours that promote sustainability and ethical farming.

“Benns Chocolate stands shoulder to shoulder with MCB in a harmonious symphony of collaboration, fortifying the foundations of our noble cacao industry,” said Ng.

“Together, we are architects of an unbroken chain. One that supports cacao farmers and crafts a sustainable future for the industry.”

Present at the launch was Datuk Siti Aminah Aching (Deputy Minister of Plantation and Commodities), Datuk Matbali Musah (Malaysian Cocoa Board chairman), Dr Ramle Kasin (director-general of MCB), Cheah Chee Fong (Plantation and Commodities Ministry, cocoa and pepper industry development division, secretary), Ng Tuck Ming (Benns chairman) and Benns director, Mike Penafort.

Meanwhile, Siti Aminah said cocoa exports climbed 13 per cent to RM7.8 billion in 2022 from RM6.8 billion in 2021. Revenue from chocolate exports from January to March this year grew 30 per cent from RM297.9 million to RM387.7 million.

To expand cocoa cultivation in the country, Siti Aminah said MCB would implement the New Crops 2023 project with a target area of 200 hectares throughout the country – 100 hectares in Sabah, 80 hectares in Sarawak and 20 hectares in West Malaysia.

Separately, Ramle said the El-Nino phenomenon would not affect the cocoa export revenue target of RM8 billion.

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