Rebuilding the Cocoa Industry
by Frances Bekele
More than 15 million people in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are directly involved in cacao cultivation, with approximately 2.5 to 3 million smallholder cocoa farmers in over 50 countries. The World Cocoa Foundation has reported that 40-50 million people
depend on cocoa for their livelihood, and in 2008, the International Cocoa Organisation projected that world cocoa production would increase from around 3.7 million tonnes in 2007-2008 to about 4.5 million tonnes in 2012-13, with consumption almost on par.
The annual earnings of the global cocoa industry are estimated at US$70 billion. A ready market exists for all the cocoa we can produce because of its premium quality and lack of restrictive quotas.
The reputation of Trinidad and Tobago cocoa as 100% fine or flavour is well-known, and this cocoa is sought by manufacturers of delectable dark chocolates. This is why T&T’s cocoa currently commands between US$4,500 and US$5,300 per tonne compared with US$2,480 per tonne paid for bulk cocoa (used to make high-volume chocolate lines).
Yet over the last three decades, cocoa production, exports, acreage under cultivation and farmer participation in T&T have been declining steadily. Approximately 2,000 farmers now grow cocoa and coffee locally (compared with 10,000 in 1966). During the last five years, total local production has not exceeded 1.0 million kgs (metric tonnes) per annum. With low cocoa yields (less than 300 kg/ha), production costs were cited as TT$7-11/kg in 1999.
Currently, farmers receive TT$20/kg for Grade 1 cocoa. Only 10% of those farmers are between the ages of 20 and 40 while 85% are between 40 and 55. There is a drive to attract youth to cocoa farming, and to create value-added enterprises based on cocoa. Ten cocoa farmers’ groups have been formed nationally with the help of the Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board of Trinidad and Tobago (CCIBTT). The groups meet monthly, and were targeted for training by the Cocoa Stakeholders Committee, which was launched by the Ministry of Food Production (then the Ministry Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources (MALMR)) in May 2008 and included the Cocoa Research Centre (CRC) staff.
Three key divisions in the Ministry of Food Production (MFP), viz., the Research Agricultural Services and the Extension Training and Information Services routinely work together to ensure that farmers have access to superior planting material and are informed about recommended practices for growing, harvesting and processing cocoa.
From March to September of this year, CRC rolled out 16 cocoa farmer field school (FFS) sessions in four growing regions of Trinidad and Tobago in collaboration with personnel from the MFP and CCIBTT. This activity was also conducted on behalf of CRU by contracted NGOs in Grenada, Dominica, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Belize. The farmers and farmers’ groups have been convinced to use the recommended practices learnt at FFS, and the long-term adoption of good management practices taught will positively influence local and regional cocoa yields in the future.