Big Interview: Carla Martin

Carla Martin

This exclusive Big Interview sees Carla Martin, Founder and Executive Director at Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute discusses the organisations growth and more.

What is the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) mission? 

FCCI focuses on reducing inequality and information asymmetry in the cacao and chocolate value chain, especially in relation to ethics and quality. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing the understanding of cacao and chocolate through rigorous research, education, and knowledge-sharing, with emphasis on supporting professionals based in cacao producing countries. The results of FCCI projects are disseminated globally at events, through publications, and in education programs. 

What is the background and history of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute? 

The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute began operations at Harvard University in 2016, after its founding by me and our initial board made up of academics, experts from cacao and chocolate and related industries such as coffee and business strategists. At the beginning, we focused on providing accessible training on cacao quality, global market strategy and ethics debates; and communicating key elements of academic research for industry members and consumers through events, workshops and media. Our team has provided training to over 1,000 individuals and organisations around the world (over half of those trained are cacao producers who have attended our programs tuition free and with translation in their native language), work that has supported adoption of industry standard cocoa quality-grading techniques in 50 countries. In addition, we have provided expert content in hundreds of events and workshops in over two dozen cacao- and chocolate-producing countries, in collaboration with many partnering organisations. 

How has the FCCI grown in recent years? 

Since 2018, we have expanded our work to include our signature international academic-industry bridge event, The Chocolate Conservatory, where, in the style of a think tank conference, we bring together key thinkers to contemplate solutions to wicked problems. We have also spearheaded partnerships to develop project-based research, transparency and impact work, such as our research on the size of the specialty cacao-chocolate market; the impact of Covid-19 to cacao, chocolate and confectionery businesses and professionals; understanding the global cocoa market with USDA, IESC and Gaia Cacao; and developing critical research methods for transparency and impact reporting with cacao and chocolate companies that aim to advance their sustainability and ethics goals. Our research is widely cited and informs policy and decision-making in the public and private sectors worldwide. Finally, we are proud of our research fellowship program, which identifies emerging scholars from cacao producing nations and sponsors their original, multilingual, public scholarship. This program has so far supported two talented young professionals from Mexico and Colombia to specialise in the study of cacao and chocolate in their countries. 

Can you tell us more about the research projects your Institute spearheads? 

Our research efforts are supported by a growing network of researchers that seeks to progress social and environmental standards and improve quality in cacao and chocolate. To do this, we share news, publish research, undertake engagement activity, monitor industry data, and provide networking support to our partner organisations. We are most concerned with the human element of cacao and chocolate — the ways in which business decisions about a commodity and food product profoundly impact people and culture. For example, our research on the impact of Covid-19 provided clear evidence that pandemic conditions are deepening social inequality in the cacao-chocolate value chain, by increasing pre-existing disparities in access to health care, business support, and more. The takeaway for stakeholders in this space today, and acutely felt, is that every possible level – governmental, industrial, community – needs to be investing in access to care for cacao producing communities. As we wrote in one of our reports on the pandemic, “The cocoa forest is not a factory with easily interchanged parts, but instead a community that scrambles to reorganise in the wake of devastating loss.” 

What is unique about FCCI’s approach to cacao producer education? 

Cacao producer training is often communicated in industry media and conferences, as well as in company communications as large projects that aim to “help” farmers. Despite many claims and millions of dollars investment in farmer training, smallholder yields and living standards have not significantly improved for producers around the world. There is a gap between market communications about training and proof of effectiveness. At FCCI, we begin from the well-established premise that cacao producers have professional competence and an understanding of their own needs, but neither the sovereignty nor the influence to unlock access to certain services and products to address them. We co-design curriculum and instructional technology methods with cacao producers and their support networks to ensure that training delivery is culturally and technologically appropriate to their context. We have also adapted to the necessity of safe training conditions during the pandemic. In 2020, FCCI successfully developed and deployed USDA-funded, farmer-centred digital training to more than 160 small scale cacao producing households in Nicaragua during Covid-19 shutdowns. 

Tell us something you want our readers to know? 

We currently face a serious problem in our society, where anti-intellectualism is on the rise, and research and education funding are on the decline. This naturally impacts the cacao and chocolate sector, with ever more strident calls for providing a business case for any inquiry on big questions about ethics and impact. These increasing limitations on what research is being done, by whom, and about what, put the entire sector at risk, and further diminish the choices available to those who hold the least resources – cacao producers. The need for humanistic, social science work in solving cacao’s wicked problems is urgent and cannot be neglected in favour of market-based, business biased questions of economics, productivity and sustainability. Just as all the existing proposed solutions to these wicked problems have come under scrutiny from both industry members and engaged consumers (e.g., voluntary sustainability standards, health claims), so too will current proposed solutions such as quality, traceability and transparency. Knowledge is a double-edged sword that requires constant critical reexamination, adaptation and exploration. This need for continuous investigation and communication is precisely what excites our team at FCCI about this sector, and we invite you to be in touch with us to consider the possibilities of applying principles of open inquiry to your own work. 

Read more of  the latest industry news and developments here: March 2022 Single Issue form – International Confectionery Magazine (

Media contact

Roshini Bains,
Editor, International Confectionery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922


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