Jamaica is seeking to boost cocoa production to put the industry on a solid footing and capitalise on the country’s reputation of being one of eight exclusive producers of fine or flavoured cocoa.
Through the €375,000 Re-engineering the Cocoa Rural Economy Through Agro-processing, Eco-Tourism and Entrepreneurship (RECREATE) project, farmers in the parishes of Portland, St. Mary, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, St. James and Clarendon will receive assistance to re-engineer their farms from traditional crop growing agriculture to agro-processing, micro-business and tourism synergies.
The project is being implemented by the Cocoa Industry Board (CIB) with funding from the European Union (EU) through its Banana Support Programme, which was set up to assist African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries suffering the fallout from the removal of the preferential treatment for bananas.
The intention is to provide a buffer for these countries and in Jamaica’s case, those parishes that grew bananas for export, explains Steve Watson, Secretary Manager at the CIB.
Through RECREATE, Jamaica is looking to create the foundation for a modern, viable cocoa industry that will flourish and attract new investors, enhance rural livelihoods and encourage self-employment, and maximize the country’s opportunity to receive a premium price for the product on the world market.
According to a report in the Jamaica Business Journal, despite access to the premium markets, the industry has not generated sustainable economic returns over the last 40 years.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, confirmed this at the launch of the project recently, stating that “cocoa production has declined substantially from the heydays of production to approximately 200 tonnes last year. This, he said, is against the background of a guaranteed market of 1,400 tonnes and the doubling of cocoa production on the international market between 2005 and 2010. According to Mr. Watson, RECREATE is the second component of a major revitalisation programme for the cocoa industry. It builds on the accomplishments of the first segment (2009 to 2010) that successfully rehabilitated 2,000 acres of neglected cocoa fields by training 50 rural people in cocoa tree pruning and cocoa field maintenance using modern power tools.
RECREATE, he tells JIS News, focuses on getting the right planting materials, “so we can start to expand acreages, farmers can then replace lower producing trees with higher producing trees”.
“It will therefore include establishing and developing nurseries, training persons in budding and grafting to facilitate a greatly improved product, and increase production,” he states.
It is estimated that the additional nurseries to be put in will produce some 200,000 plants that can plant out 500 new acres, which can, in five years, produce 600 metric tonnes of cocoa for the export markets. Currently, an estimated 6,000 acres of land are being farmed for cocoa. Some 60 persons, mostly women, will also be trained in nursery operations such as budding and grafting.
In addition, Mr. Watson says that farmers will be trained in field management services, value-added processing and will benefit from basic business and entrepreneurship training so as to operate their operations “like a business”. They will be encouraged to enter the value-added sector and establish cottage industry.
“Farmers will be able to sell their products, such as the old time Jamaica cocoa tea as a menu item. They will also be encouraged to sell cocoa balls to the hotels and the CIB will assist with the marketing and sourcing of client,” he informs.
More than 200 persons will be employed over the 18-month life of the project. Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Engineer turned cocoa farmer, Kerry Thomas, expresses confidence that the project will greatly enhance cocoa production in Jamaica. “Cocoa is one of Jamaica’s unique products and I do not think we are utilising it as much,” he says.
Mr. Thomas says that with the assistance that he will receive, he intends to set up a nursery on his farm. “So, not only will I have a nursery but also the technical assistance coming in. With this help, I will be able to produce hybrid cocoa seedlings to replant areas that need to be replanted, clear new areas and plant because I will have the seedlings necessary,” he notes.
He says he will also be able to create a business by selling seedlings to others, who are interested in going into the cocoa industry.
Farmers will be required to go through an assessment process to ensure that they are legitimate cocoa farmers, in order to benefit from the support. A team from the CIB will be going into the targeted areas to meet with and interview the farmers.
“The things we will be looking at is sustainability, succession planning, hence we are encouraging young farmers to come into project,” Mr. Watson says.
The Ministry of Agriculture has oversight for the project through a special monitoring unit.
By Judith A. Hunter, JIS PRO