Jamaican cocoa could be sweet again

Saturday, January 16, 2016

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Production of cocoa in Jamaica is nowhere near its previous levels and far from its potential, although we are told that 370 acres of cocoa orchards have been rehabilitated in recent years.

It takes time, because a cocoa tree takes about four years to start bearing. Production has been recovering, but it is not at the level of the 1980s. The 2011/2012 crop was 476.5 metric tons of cocoa, valued at $150.6 million. An estimated 7,000 farmers are engaged in the farming of 8,800 acres of cocoa across the island. This reflects increased funding and technical support.

Jamaica presently exports cocoa to Japan, Switzerland, Holland, France and the United States of America. In 1992, production amounted to 2,522 tons, but declined to approximately 440 tons in 2008 and recovered to 476 tons in 2012. During the same period, world production went from 2.5 million tons to 4.1 million tons.

Why is the cocoa industry in its current state when history demonstrates the potential for production and when Jamaica cocoa is rated among the best fine or flavoured cocoa by the International Cocoa Organisation? Why is production not progressing faster when world market demand and prices are favourable?

Cocoa prices have shot up by nearly 40 per cent since early 2012. The demand for chocolate is growing steadily, driven by Asia where demand rose by six per cent last year with even larger increases in China and India. Chocolate demand reached a record level of 7.1 million tons in 2015.

Supply is down because the world output of cocoa beans was less in 2015 than in 2011, partly because output in Ghana, the second largest producer in the world, is down.

The Jamaica Cocoa Farmers’ Association (JCFA) was formed in May 2008 as a non-profit organisation to pursue a farmer-centred approach towards the sustainable development of the cocoa sector. The JCFA was also to provide cocoa farmers and stakeholders with a forum to facilitate communication and co-operation in their efforts to induce more private investment and more government support.

The industry is regulated by the Cocoa Industry Board (CIB), established in 1957 with a board appointed by the minister of agriculture. The CIB oversees cocoa production, the purchasing and processing of wet cocoa beans, and the sale of the dried, fermented beans. For that purpose, the CIB operates four fermentaries, one each in Hanover, St Mary, Clarendon, and Kingston where the CIB, for some inexplicable reason, has its offices.

There is potential for increased production, and this should be encouraged, given that medium- and long-term projections indicate favourable demand and prices in the world market. Demand for chocolate is projected to grow faster than cocoa production. It is a good crop for small farmers, it is labour-intensive and it can be grown on hillsides suitable for few alternatives.

The future of cocoa in Jamaica could be sweet. There is clearly a case to answered by the Government, in particular the minister of agriculture, and the Opposition spokesman on agriculture. The question is whether enough resources, technical support and incentives have been given to cocoa farmers.

This is the kind of topic that needs to be discussed in specific terms, not abstract rhetoric, during the current general election campaign.

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