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Cluster Project to revamp cocoa industry
It is time to stop the old talk and make the cocoa industry profitable, Food Production Minister Senator Devant Maharaj said on Wednesday. Speaking at the launch of a Cocoa Cluster Project at the San Antonio Estate, Gran Couva, Maharaj said a lot has been said about the high quality and attractiveness of T&T cocoa but if farmers find the activity unprofitable the industry will grind to a halt. “It is truly disappointing that the sub-sector has failed to develop in a sustainable and profitable manner,” he said. Maharaj said only five per cent of the cocoa produced in the world was regarded as fine or flavourful and T&T cocoa fell into this category. He said there was a niche market for this type of cocoa which was mainly used in specialty products and commanded a premium price of more than US$5,000 a tonne compared to the price of bulk cocoa which sells for US$2,000 a tonne.
The minister referred to Central Statistical Office data for 2003-2009 which showed that cocoa declined from an annual production of 1320 metric tonnes to 600 metric tonnes. He said Government has adopted a results-based approach through introduction of initiatives such as the cocoa cluster project. He said: “We move a step closer towards not only rehabilitating the cocoa industry but also monetising it.” Maharaj said strategies to rehabilitate the cocoa industry will address labour shortages and high costs, low farm productivity, the ageing farmer population, the attractiveness of the industry to the younger generation and problems associated with capital and infrastructure. He said the overall goal was to organise cocoa farmers into several clusters to participate in targeted delivery programmes resulting in a streamlined business geared toward improved productivity, quality, value addition and profitability.
The minister said the project represented a move away from disjointed efforts toward a systems approach where stakeholders’ issues and initiatives were integrated around a common vision, outcomes and values. Maharaj said 11 cocoa clusters had been formed involving more than 300 farmers in cocoa growing areas across the country. He said 200 farmers had been involved in intense practical hands-on training and power tools had been acquired for four clusters to enable mechanisation of some activities. He said the Tamana cluster was seeking to attract a direct link to a chocolatier for their beans and a local company affiliated to Artisans du Chocolat in the United Kingdom is interested in beans from the that cluster.
German chocolatier Lubeker has expressed an interest in beans from the Tabaquite cluster, the minister revealed. Maharaj said Cabinet had agreed to repeal and replace the archaic Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board Act of 1962 and form a new company to carry the industry forward in a profitable and sustainable manner. This company will be the driver for the new thrust to revitalise the industry by focusing on marketing, sales, internal quality control and commercialisation of research and development initiatives undertaken by the Cocoa Research Centre. Farmer Jude Lee Sam said for cocoa to be profitable farmers must fetch at least US$7 a kilo for their crops. Lee Sam said many international buyers were interested in local cocoa but changed their minds after demands were made for a fair price. He said cocoa was now attracting part-time farmers and retirees who had nothing else to do with their time.