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T&T’s cocoa sector left behind
The local cocoa industry has been through too many cycles of neglect to generate the billions of dollars in revenue and crucial foreign exchange T&T needs at this time, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat has admitted.
The minister, who was interviewed by the T&T Guardian at the launch of the Cocoa Pod, an exclusive chocolate shop located on Gordon Street, Port-of-Spain, said while research by the University of the West Indies indicates that conditions are prime in T&T to rejuvenate the sector it was left behind because oil and gas drove the economy.
At present, he revealed, T&T produces just 500 tonnes of cocoa annually—the lowest level of production in the history of the local industry. To resuscitate the sector, he added, producers will have move away from the export of all the beans, and boost production, while manufacturing new products for local consumption and export.
Rambharat said there is great potential for cocoa to contribute to the economy but in the absence of a well constituted sector, Government will almost have to start from scratch to bring about its revival.
“I have given the mandate to the Cocoa Development Company. Government is about to appoint a new board and I feel given the names I have put forward for that board, with the right mix of farmers, experts and academics—people who understand the sector—I expect that the Cocoa Development Company will drive the process,” the minister said.
“What we need in T&T is a mix of the small farmers and small producers. We also need to have large acreages under cultivation which may mean working a combination of local farmers and non-Trinidadian investors who have looked at cocoa and T&T and wish to make an investment.”
Rambharat added: “Lands are definitely available based on the research I have seen out of the University of the West Indies. North east and south east Trinidad remain prime areas for cocoa cultivation because of temperature and rainfall and a variety of factors.
“We have land available. I believe we have the right amount of acreage. I believe the time is right. What we need is the political will and the support of the farming community to get it going. It will not bring the $10 billion over night. We have to rebuild the sector on the basis of a fantastic product which is the local cocoa.”
Commenting on claims by cocoa farmers that they are not being paid enough for their produce, Rambharat said the issue of price is not a local matter, but is determined by world commodity prices.
“We have fine cocoa which fetches a premium price and the regular cocoa which is used for market type chocolate. I have challenged the sector to go into the niche (market) where our products from cocoa could fetch the best prices in the world,” he said.
“I don’t think we should be in the supermarket trade. I think we should be working to develop fine chocolate. We should also be working to develop the other products. T&T is too small to influence price.”
Rambharat added: “We are also too small to influence the price of the fine cocoa. We know that there is demand for it, but we should be looking inward to see how much we can produce value added products in the country.”