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Chocolatiers, needing more cocoa, wooing millennials into cocoa farming

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Ivory Coast and Ghana are the world's top two cocoa producing nations. Indonesia is also a major supplier, but is up against ageing farmers, pests, diseases and loss of land to other crops.

Jakarta

THE maker of chocolate M&Ms and Snickers sees a growing risk on the horizon: sliding cocoa supply from Indonesia, one of the world's top growers.

The answer? Comics and WiFi. Mars Inc, maker of candy famous to consumers across the world, is among firms trying to lure millennials into cocoa farming in the archipelago, where ageing planters, decaying trees, pests and diseases have depressed output so much that the nation has become a net importer.

The hope is that the younger set, attracted by free Internet, will get hooked on cocoa at themed cafes and be persuaded to return to the farms.

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Arie Nauvel Iskandar, chairman of the Indonesia Cocoa Association and director of corporate affairs at PT Mars Symbioscience Indonesia, said: "We opened a cafe that has WiFi, and many pictures and objects about cocoa farming, and it's attracted a lot of teenagers because of the WiFi. It's one way to introduce youth to cocoa."

The association, which is working with Mars and other companies to boost supply, says output could rise 15 per cent next year to 300,000 metric tons as trees planted in recent years mature. To ensure crop growth doesn't flag after that, a national programme will kick in to push output to 600,000 tons by 2024, he said.

The plan aims not only to attract millennials, but develop stronger clones and make more funding available to curb pests and diseases, he said.

A crop of that size would be large enough to meet rising demand from domestic processors and supply the world market, he added. "With the best farming practices, mentoring, proper fertiliser and the right planting materials, we'll be able to meet the target."

The increased output may go some way to ease chocolate makers' dependence on the world's biggest growers, Ivory Coast and Ghana, as demand climbs in the next few years. The global chocolate confectionery market grew 2.5 per cent in the nine months through April, said top cocoa processor Barry Callebaut AG in July.

Mr Iskandar said: "Cocoa must be seen as an option for living and having a good future. Many farmers send their children away to school, so they don't follow in their father's footsteps because they feel a farmer's life is hard. We have to give enough information to them and the millennials to change that perception."

The national programme will be finalised next year and start under the new administration in early 2020 at the latest, he said. Indonesia holds presidential elections in April.

Indonesia's cocoa-growing areas have shrunk to about 1.3 million ha - from 1.7 million ha in 2010 - as land is instead being used for homes or infrastructure, or because farmers have switched to more profitable crops such as palm oil, said Mr Iskandar.

Nearly three-quarters of Indonesia's cocoa is grown in Sulawesi, where more and more land has been given over to the growing of palm oil. BLOOMBERG