Cocoa, Theobroma cacao, is a small evergreen tree that grows 4-8 metres in height and is native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. In its natural habitat, cocoa is an understorey species and related to cotton and okra. Its seeds or beans are processed to make cocoa mass (liquor), powder, cocoa butter (used as an ingredient in the food and cosmetic industries), paste and chocolate. The husks and fibres that remain after processing are used for animal feed and fertiliser.
A new cocoa industry is in operation in far north Queensland, growing plants from hybrid seed imported from Papua New Guinea. Boutique markets are under development using the concept of high quality ‘origin’ chocolate and there is potential for chocolate-based tourism built around a ‘bean to bar’ concept.
Growing cocoa as a plantation species is challenging and the cocoa industry is addressing fundamental issues of cultivation and processing. Establishment of seedlings is challenging and the trees are prone to cyclone damage, but research is underway to investigate solutions for these problems. The establishment of the industry will be greatly helped by the development of a successful method of processing of Australian grown beans, which involves mechanised pod splitting and extraction, fermentation and drying of the beans. The economic viability of Australian-based cocoa production will be reliant on good prices and high productivity of harvesting and processing.
Facts and figures
- Cocoa is a small (4–8 metres) evergreen tree, native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America
- Establishment of cocoa is challenging as the plant is particularly sensitive to wind, high light levels and moisture stress
- Beans from the cocoa plant are used to make cocoa mass (liquor), powder, cocoa butter, paste and chocolate
- The cocoa industry is a new industry in Australia and as at 2013 there were around 20 hectares of cocoa in production
- Potential industry development in Australia lies in the development of an ‘origin’ based boutique chocolate industry and tourism opportunities such as ‘bean to bar’
In 2011–12, worldwide production of cocoa was approximately four million tonnes, valued at US$2307 per tonne, and over 70% of production was in Africa. Around the world, 90% of cocoa production is on landholdings of 4.8 hectares or less; and 5% comes from plantations of 40 hectares or more.
The cocoa industry in Australia is new, with only 15 to 20 hectares under production. An eight-year feasibility study showed that the best cocoa production in Australia was at Mossman, 100 kilometres north of Cairns. New plantings are also being established in the Innisfail region using trellis management. There is potential for an industry to encompass 1,000 hectares, producing up to 3,000 tonnes of dried bean. The value of raw product to the region would be around AU$10–12 million.