This corner of West Africa is susceptible to drought and disease, and fears that this region could be hit with Ebola from its infected neighbours, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, saw the price of cocoa surge by more than 10pc in September.
Although cocoa prices have since settled to their pre-summer levels, they are still about a third higher than they were 18 months ago, and have more than doubled in the past decade.
Lauren Bandy, food analyst at Euromonitor International, said, “Pests and diseases, weather (particularly El Nino) and political instability are standard factors fuelling the trend in escalating cocoa prices. None are new, and I expect they will always be there.”
These factors, along with an increase in consumer appetite, particularly in China and India, have prompted several major chocolate manufacturers to warn that the so-called chocolate deficit, where demand outstrips supply, could reach 1m tonnes by 2020 and double that 10 years later.
This is part of the reason why Mr Melka believes United Cacao can be “a positive force of change” in the industry.
United Cacao is based on the mouth of the Amazon in Peru, about 30 minutes away from Iquitos, the fifth-largest city in Peru and the biggest city in the world that is inaccessible by road. Mr Melka calls it “the best place on Earth and the lowest- cost location to grow cacao.”
He highlights the benefits of farming in Peru compared to in West Africa: it’s an investment grade country with positive fiscal balances, zero net debt as a nation, with freehold land, constant regular rainfall each month, a good tradition of agriculture and no export tax.
What’s more, the cocoa bean is indigenous to the South American region.
“All cacao on earth came from there –it’s the home of cacao,” Mr Melka says.
“You have this innovation that you don’t have in Asia and Africa – and no export tax, which means we’re free to send [the cacao] anywhere on Earth.”
United Cacao employs 400 local Peruvian staff, who are paid electronically via direct debit, and the company says it helps the farmers to plant their own cacao by lending where the banks will not.
The company prides itself on this ethical, sustainable approach, and of course charges its customers a premium for it.
United Cacao has approximately 320 hectares of planted crops today and plans to increase that to 2,000 hectares by the end of 2015 using the proceeds from its IPO, before completing the planting of its existing 3,250-hectare estate a year later.
Shares will begin trading on the London Aim market tomorrow morning, under the ticker CHOC. United Cacao raised £6.4m from the sale of 5m shares at 128p each, and will have a valuation of £23m.
Mr Melka said none of the company’s early funders – its directors and private investors – exited their investments in the IPO, and Mr Melka bought an additional $1.4m (£0.9m) worth of stock.