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Cacao value chains and credence attributes: lessons from Ecuador

Alexis Villacis (Morrison School of Agribusiness, W. P. Carey School of Business, ASU, Mesa, Arizona, USA)
Jeffrey Alwang (Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Victor Barrera (INIAP, Quito, Ecuador)

Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies

ISSN: 2044-0839

Article publication date: 19 April 2022

Issue publication date: 2 August 2022




Motivated by transformations in global food systems and increasing demand for multidimensional credence attributes, the authors analyze cacao value chains in Ecuador – the main producer of fine and flavor cacao worldwide. The authors identify opportunities and discuss how private and public sector initiatives can help meet emerging challenges.


Primary information was collected through interviews of actors in the Ecuadorian industry during spring/summer 2020, including cacao producer associations, exporter associations, chocolate processing firms, public institutions and local universities. Two focus groups were also conducted with producers from associations in the Ecuadorian Amazon.


Findings suggest new opportunities for cacao producers and chocolate processors have emerged from the global market transformation. To exploit these, firms need to personalize and differentiate their products, for example, by using quality certifications such as organic and fair trade. Market developments, such as European cadmium regulations and the necessity of worldwide traceability systems, are driving exporters to enhance Ecuador’s cacao value chains. The sector still requires coordination to reap the benefits associated with demands for credence attributes.


Findings are supported by two case studies. The first focuses on how associativity can help those producing high-quality beans to differentiate themselves in modern agri-food markets. The second describes the success of a local chocolate firm and its links with local farmers.



This work was supported by the Inter-American Development Bank. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, its respective Boards of Directors, or the countries they represent. The authors are grateful for constructive feedback from Ernesto Stein, Romina Ordoñez, Lina Salazar, and Piero Ghezzi. Comments received from two anonymous reviewers and the editor of this journal are gratefully acknowledged. All remaining errors are ours.


Villacis, A., Alwang, J. and Barrera, V. (2022), "Cacao value chains and credence attributes: lessons from Ecuador", Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 549-566.



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