Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, said that focus must be placed on value-added activities in the cocoa industry in order to move the sector forward.
He was speaking at the launch of the Re-engineering the Cocoa Rural Economy through Agro-processing Eco-Tourism and Entrepreneurship Project (RECREATE) on March 20 at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens headquarters in Kingston.
While expressing appreciation to the European Union (EU) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for helping to boost cocoa production over the past two years, Mr. Clarke stated that, “though we are excited about the increase in production…we ought not to be exporting cocoa beans and then importing expensive chocolate bars”.
He said the Government is therefore committed to the divestment of the commercial assets of the Cocoa Industry Board and the deregulation of the marketing of cocoa, in order to attract investment in the production of higher value products.
“The process has begun, and we are moving full speed ahead…we are however conscious that value-added activities must be based on a firm production foundation (therefore) throughput must be maintained and production at the primary level must be efficient if we are going to compete,” the Minister stated.
Meanwhile, he noted that over the past two years, through the EU and the USAID, nearly 2,000 acres of cocoa were rehabilitated, benefitting some 520 farmers, and providing substantial support to the Cocoa Growers Association.
“This has had the impact of moving production up substantially, with production in the first quarter of this crop up to December 2011, surpassing the total crop (for) the year before,” Mr. Clarke said.
He pointed out that although cocoa production has declined significantly from previous years, approximately 200 tonnes were produced last year. This is against the background of a guaranteed market of 14,000 tonnes, and the doubling of cocoa prices on the world market between 2005 and 2010.
RECREATE is a €350,000 EU-funded project, which will benefit the parishes of St. Thomas, St. Mary, St. James, St. Catherine, Clarendon, and Portland, up to 2013. Extra special varieties now at Orange River, St. Mary and Montpelier, St. James will be improved and expanded, while private entrepreneurs will be encouraged to operate nurseries.
A total of 60 persons are to be trained and employed in nursery-related activities, with the nurseries producing some 200,000 plants for the planting of 500 new acres, which could in five years, produce 600 metric tonnes of cocoa for export.
Mr. Clarke noted that in the planting phase of the project, some 50 persons are to be employed, and some 300 acres are to be rehabilitated in Clarendon and St. Catherine.
He further informed that, “as we try to assist in the development of the entrepreneurial spirit in the project areas, approximately 25 persons will be trained in business basics and entrepreneurship mainly in the cottage industry and in value-added areas”. Overall, close to 200 persons will be trained and employed in the various phases of the project.
Minister Clarke pointed out that Jamaica’s cocoa is among the best in the world, and is in fact, among only eight countries with the designation of “fine flavoured” cocoa.
The launch also featured the handing over ceremony for beneficiaries of a previous coco rehabilitation project, which was also funded by the EU.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter