Focus On: Katherine Alfaro

One of the industries with the greatest potential for development in Colombia is the production of cocoa, which is why we interviewed Katherine Alfaro, a professional in International Business, a specialist in project evaluation and management, and a candidate for a master’s degree with emphasis in marketing. She shared with us the challenges of positioning her country’s cocoa in the international market.

Katherine currently works at one of the most important public institutions in the Magdalena Medio region, the Instituto Universitario de la Paz, where she was hired as a teacher and later promoted to program coordinator.

As a result of her work there, she connected with the Chamber of Commerce of Barrancabermeja, where she is currently the Market Professional for the Mountain Chocolat project. This project works in conjunction with Bucaramanga’s Chamber of Commerce, FEDECACAO, Gironés, and the region’s Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL), among others.

Competitiveness, resilience, fair pricing, and the inclusion of women are all key to the comprehensive redesign of the cocoa industry.

The challenge: To boost the competitiveness of the cocoa sector in the region

Colombian coffee is a world leader, so raising cocoa to that level is an ambitious and achievable challenge that entails a gradual transformation. The project is executed with public resources, seeking to create a model that can be replicated in other regions.

It is vital that the producer give value to the production chain, since in traditional commerce the farmer was only interested in trading without premiums or additional payments for his work; currently they are implementing a fair price policy. Sustainability and maintainability will increase the value of the cocoa bean.

“We are grateful to the farmers, because in Colombia this is the industry with the greatest annual growth. We want to honor them and give them true recognition not only in the media and social networks, but also from an economic point of view,” said Katherine, who is originally from Barrancabermeja.

Market Business Experience is one of the prospective events where they can consolidate the progress of the new form of cocoa production in Colombia.

“We also want to create a virtual business roundtable; just imagine what we have been working on to update them, there’s a lot to do: the necessary use of social networks, the accounting system has changed to cater to international markets, etc.,” she added.

A holistic socioeconomic and cultural project

All the links in the process are important, but recognizing the producers is key. “It’s a beautiful project that seeks to dignify agriculture. If we think back and look at the past, only commerce and big business were important; it was leaving aside the context of the farmer and producer, who are in fact the essence of the business,” said Alfaro.

The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital tools, and this is an area of special emphasis, because it is not only about changing production, but also how business is done, which requires a cultural change to reduce the generation gap.

“The union of academia and business is a very important fusion, because it’s not only about developing the product, but also about having a positive impact on the lives of producers. We use training and workshops to show them what lies beyond the traditionalist model they have been working with for decades,” said Katherine.

Currently, producers range in age from 40 to 60 years old, so another factor to consider is the new generations of farmers who will assimilate the new needs of the era better and faster. It should be noted that updating models does not imply the disappearance of traditional models with more than 30 years of history.

The inclusion of women is a hallmark of the movement and is relevant because about 25% of the project participants are women.

About Barrancabermeja

Barrancabermeja used to be a municipality that later became an official district. This helps to leverage more resources from the government, which are being used to generate development through education and knowledge.

The project is being developed in the municipalities of San Vicente, El Carmen, El Playón, Rio Negro and Landázuri. The first two are the most well established, in fact, San Vicente’s cocoa was recently acknowledged in Paris, France. “This confirms that we are on the right track,” concluded Katherine Alfaro.

Chocolate Gironés is a leading company in Colombia that is contributing to the “Mountain Chocolat” project.

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