The Trinidad and Tobago Review reported last week that cocoa farmers work on a plan to revive the industry, as low cash flow, high cost, and lack of interest from new generations of potential farmers put Trinidad and Tobago famed cocoa in peril.
Interviewed by reporter Lorraine Waldropt, Moheepath, a worker on a cocoa farm laments, “All I know is cocoa and I know it very well. . . Nobody cyah chouponeer (prune) a tree like me. Cocoa was king when I was small, but not again. The Government ent doing nothing to resurrect the king. People selling estates like mad and nobody ent trying to save we bread and butter.” The estate he works on is 30 years old, the “bossman,” as he calls the owner of the estate, may soon sell off the land as real estate because of low cash flow, high labor and input costs, and low reliability of labor.
The article goes on to explain that Trinidad and Tobago’s fine or flavour cocoa was, indeed, king in the early 1900s, with a production of over 30 million kg in 1921 and the status as fifth largest producer of fine or flavour cocoa in the world. Today 1.25 million kg are produced. In addressing the downward spiral of domestic cocoa quotas, 1999 Government of Trinidad and Tobago and European Union Rehabilitation of the Cocoa Industry Investment Preparation Study suggested disease problems (blackpod) and pests, lack of education in agriculture and dwindling farming population, exodus of labor away from farms, with industrialization and low-input cultivation methods as the precipitating agents. However, the University of the West Indies Cocoa Research Unit, and the Ministry of Agriculture Cocoa Research Unit have addressed the disease problems through research and development of disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties.
The local cocoa industry still has a competitive advantage due to its product differentiation and holds a niche market with a premium price, courtesy the intrinsic flavor of Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa among the other eight exclusive producers in the world. It is a prime ingredient in bourgeoisie dark chocolate, the dark chocolate sometimes referred to as “vintage chocolate” demanded by the elite market. Since the characteristic flavor of cocoa is derived from a combination of environmental, genetic and climatic factors, “Trinidad and Tobago fine or flavour cocoa is a brand in itself.”
Nevertheless, the problem of labor has not been solved, and the ageing population of farmers and low interest by younger people continue to be areas of concern. Cocoa farmers have now organized into a newly formed group, the Cocoa Producers Alliance of Trinidad and Tobago (COPALTT), to take matters into their own hands and to develop a plan of action to resuscitate the industry. Alexandra Seale, chairperson of COPALTT, says that the group has made a declaration in which they articulated priorities for the industry, addressing the issues of agricultural health and safety, education, estate insurance, industry-friendly legislation, marketing, and agro-tourism. The group is confident and intends to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board (CCIB) to present proposals for saving the cocoa industry. Dr. Darin Sukha, research fellow at the University of the West Indies, is also confident that with a healthy relationships between research, the farming community, the government, and other stakeholders will help solve the cocoa dilemma. In sum, all agree that the cocoa industry must be revolutionized in order to save it.
For full article (and photo), see http://www.tntreview.com/?p=706