Market growth continues for fine, flavoured cocoa
Hot cocoa is a Christmas morning treat. The demand for cocoa as a product continues to grow globally, but production in Jamaica is being affected as low farm gate prices demotivate investment by growers. (Photo: Pixabay)

Cocoa balls, grated and combined with nutmeg in hot water and served with or without milk is a favourite drink on Christmas morning. The product, however, has a wider and more sustained appeal for a variety of uses in countries across the globe including the making of ice cream.

In a new update, the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) indicates that cocoa exports from the island continue to be in demand as the island maintains its fine flavour cocoa status on the international market.

At the authority, the post of senior director, cocoa, coconut and spices was permanently filled in August 2022 by Shanika Newman, who also bears the title of quality management systems professional and food safety auditor.

Newman told the Jamaica Observer that cocoa production in Jamaica has increased year over year, with output in crop year 2021-2022 of 10,549.79 boxes with dry recovery weight of 105.5 metric tonnes.

This compares to output in crop year 2020-2021 of 8,384.80 boxes with dry recovery weight of 83.5 metric tonnes.

Newman said that sector challenges continued to be low plant density, low plant management/nutrition, low productivity, ageing plants, disease including frosty pod, rot and pests.

Other challenges, she outlined, were ageing producers, low investor interest, low youth participation, low return on investment and insufficient living income for some producers.

Export markets, however, remained robust including France, the UK, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada and Japan

The Netherlands, Italy and Japan are relatively new markets. JACRA last year told the Business Observer that Jamaica exports in the region of US$400,000 annually.

Jamaica's cocoa crop year runs from October through to September the following year.

For crop year 2018-2019, 149,0450.00 kg of cacao were produced of which 115,614.00 kg were exported for a total value of US$420.723.25

For crop year 2019-2020 production was 109,344.00 kg, of which 102,862.90 kg was exported at a total value of US$ 452,462.

JACRA indicates that Jamaica's cocoa's value chain includes farmers, traders, fermentaries and chocolatiers. Currently, there are four fermentaries operating in St Thomas, St Andrew, St Mary, and Clarendon.

Licensed cocoa dealers are as follows: Coffee Traders Limited, Golden Dawn Estate, Pioneer Chocolate Company Limited, and the Export Division — Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries.

Other than these, JACRA indicates there exists small-scale chocolatiers/producers who operate in the cottage industry.

The regulatory authority indicates that Jamaica's cocoa cottage industry may be described as small business operators that produce value-added products to supply both local and international markets.

The operators produce confectionaries that range from single estate chocolate bars infused with local flavours to traditional chocolate balls which are used to make what is affectionately known as chocolate tea.

Free of defects

In 2021 contracts added for exports from the sector were from the Netherlands, Italy and Japan.

Cocoa produced by Jamaica carries the designation 'Fine or Flavoured' and is one of only eight countries worldwide that produces exclusively 100 per cent 'Fine or Flavoured' cocoa.

The working definition for "Fine or Flavour" cocoa under the International Cocoa Agreement 2010 is as follows; Fine cocoa is free of defects in flavour while providing a complex flavour profile that reflects the expertise of the producer.

Cocoa that has a maximum of three per cent defects and provides valuable aromatic or flavour characteristics that have been traditionally important in blends. Flavour cocoa that meets these basic quality criteria may also offer important genetic diversity, the JACRA expert adds.

A 2021 survey carried out by JACRA's advisory officers and licensed cocoa dealers concluded that the sector continues to be impacted by extreme fluctuation in weather conditions.

Another challenge is the impact of frosty pod rot (FPR) disease on pods becoming mature. The industry is also affected by farmers' dissatisfaction with price per box currently being paid ($3,000 per box), the unavailability of labour to cocoa farmers and ageing farmers and cocoa trees.

JACRA, in its mandate to stimulate interest and assist with developing a sustainable cocoa sector for farmers and other cocoa sector stakeholders, carries out developmental activities including providing training to sector stakeholders as a measure to improve business along the value chain for the commodity.

JACRA also oversees a field rehabilitation programme: Providing support for nursery operations to produce frosty pod rot (FPR) tolerant varieties so as to bolster Jamaica's fight against the debilitating disease.

It has also been implementing programmes to stimulate interest in local value-added production and facilitate business linkages.

One such programme is the local Cocoa of Excellence Programme.

Aiming to contain frosty bed spread, the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries is currently carrying out disease management protocol in cocoa farms across the following affected parishes Clarendon, St Andrew, St Mary and St Catherine.

The JACRA notes that in Jamaica cocoa is cultivated as a mixed crop with the typical cocoa farm producing coconuts, banana, plantains and timber.

This allows farmers to generate income from several crops produced on a one acre plot. Cocoa once established starts producing after three years and optimum production at year seven.

A $210,000 maximum from one plot, from which production costs must be deducted. Each plot has the potential to produce annually 40-70 boxes per acre, depending on the agriculture practices applied by the farmer. Currently the farm-gate price for wet cocoa was $3,000 per box in 2021.

JACRA shares that at year seven the estimated annual cost to maintain one acre of cocoa is estimated at $120,000-$160,000.

Chocolate made from cocoa. Jamaica maintains its 100 per cent, fine flavoured cocoa status and markets are growing..

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