Cocoa farmers appeal for investors

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

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THE Jamaica Cocoa Farmers' Association (JCFA) is appealing to investors to pump funds into cocoa production and help to position the industry as a viable area for economic growth, wealth creation and employment.


"We are excited and optimistic about the future of cocoa in this country," said Michael Leckie, JCFA board member. "We want to share this excitement and optimism with farmers across Jamaica and with the private sector that might be looking for additional investment opportunities: Our message is look to cocoa," he said.


"We are on the hunt for partners who believe in the vision of creating a robust cocoa industry in Jamaica," Leckie said while addressing last Friday's handing-over ceremony of farm equipment at Food For the Poor's compound in Spanish Town, St Catherine.


Leckie said, too, that the industry needed nurseries, processing facilities along with continuous training for cocoa farmers and an increase in the extension services that the association provides to make a significant and sustainable impact in the industry.


Additionally, he said the association needed assistance from partners to help attract more women and youth in the industry, considering that the average age of cocoa farmers is over 60 and that the country's unemployment rate is more than 16 per cent.


Citing data from the Ministry of Agriculture, he said the country produced only 750 tonnes of cocoa last year which he said is way below its best. Efforts to increase the production as well as to strengthen and develop the industry must be redoubled, he added.


"Quite frankly, we are scratching the surface. In 1992, Jamaica was producing over 2,000 tonnes of cocoa" he said. "... For a country that has underperformed in terms of economic growth, all of us must be prepared for a sprint as well as a marathon," said Leckie.


At the same time, he said cocoa farmers needed more meaningful support and that they should be paid a fair price," he said.


He said work has already started to achieve fair-trade certification for the association as well as cocoa farms. "Achieving this certification will guarantee our farmers a fair price and this will be a major boost to achieving sustainability of the industry," said Leckie.


According to him, the association has already demonstrated its commitment to cocoa farmers by paying the highest price for cocoa and over the last three years has paid out more than $72 million to farmers.


Leckie also noted that tremendous work has been done in St Thomas, St Catherine, Portland, St Mary and Clarendon -- which have the largest cocoa communities -- to develop the farmer capacity, improve farming practices, establish cocoa fermentation and drying facilities as well as to organise farmers in strong networks.


"We have achieved some outstanding results. Through our extension services in the five parishes we have rehabilitated 370 acres of cocoa farms, trained 139 framers in entrepreneurship and 130 framers in post-handling and processing of cocoa. In addition, four drying and fermentation facilities have been established," said Leckie.


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