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MTC in project to improve life for Colombian farmers

The cocoa project team in Colombia

The Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre is playing a major role in a project to improve the lives of cocoa farmers in Colombia by helping them with quality and productivity.

The two-year, million pound project is concentrated on the improvement of farm productivity, consistency of product, quality and post-harvest processes. The aim is to improve the profitability of smallholder farmers and their families by ensuring they get a better deal from buyers, become more productive and produce better quality cocoa.

The project – named COLCO – is funded by the UK Newton Fund which supports welfare and sustainable development through science and innovation among countries receiving official development assistance. The funding is channelled through Innovate UK. The project is led by the Satellite Applications Catapult.

The MTC team is looking specifically at the bean fermentation and drying processes which are vital to the quality of the bean. More than 70 per cent of the flavour of cocoa beans comes from the fermentation process. MTC experts are also working with the cocoa and chocolate supply chain to establish better quality assessment of the beans on the way to commercialisation.

The project team has spent time on the farms understanding the farming, harvesting and post-harvest processes and have run workshops with local partners.

MTC technology manager Alejandra Matamoros said that they were working to ensure that farmers could achieve consistency in their processes, which would benefit them when the beans went to market.

“We want to ensure that the smallholder farmers get a better deal, which will improve the quality of life for them and their families, and will have a socio-economic effect on their region and the Colombian economy as a whole. We are not just interested in deploying technology – that would be easy. We want to make sure that our impact is positive and lasting,” she said.

The MTC was founded by the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and TWI Ltd. The MTC’s industrial members include some of the UK’s major global manufacturers.

The MTC aims to provide a competitive environment to bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions, in line with the Government’s manufacturing strategy. The MTC is part the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK.