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Critical conversation 4 Green, gold and chocolate

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Everybody knows what a banana is, but how about what it takes to put a smooth golden hand of fruit on a tray in the market? It is like that with cocoa. We all know cocoa in some form or other, but let us get to know what lies behind the cup of Milo or the bar of chocolate or the cocoa butter cosmetic.{{more}}

Take a banana. a farmer doesn’t just plant a field of bananas just so. long before s/he digs the first hole, s/he has decided which variety or varieties of banana to plant. At present, the ones that farmers go for are the Williams, Grand Nain and the Jatta varieties, so that they get good bunches, quick fruiting and heavy weight. WINBAN, now WINFRESH, is the agency that makes the selection of these varieties for our conditions. (WINFRESH is a transnational corporation owned by our governments in the Windwards). When it comes to planting cocoa, you meet the same situation. You have to choose your plants carefully. Here’s what an UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) leaflet says:

“There are three varieties of coca trees. The most common is Forestaro which accounts for 90% of the cocoa beans in the world. The second group is the Criollo which produces “fine and flavour” beans mostly in the Caribbean, finally there’s the Trinitario variety which is a cross from Criollo and Forestaro.”

All cocoa is not the same. The Trinitario variety from Trinidad and Tobago is now a first prize cocoa variety and massive research and development work is going on to upgrade it constantly. In fact, a recent report states that between T & T and Costa Rica there is a research project to screen 1,386 varieties of Trinitario for resistance to disease!

SO COCOA IS A HIGH VALUE CROP

A new cocoa industry looks right for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The plant itself, like banana, benefits from sustained quality research, notably in T & T. Farmers in SVG have an excellent level of agriculture know how from 50 plus years of banana and moreso from 20 years of market driven pressure. Our soils are generally more than suitable. In other words, the high level of productive forces that a modern cocoa industry represents is present in SVG. New skills, particularly in fermenting, bulk drying and warehousing will be necessary, and we have to lift our seriousness in organising to come an effective agribusiness company. Only so can we become competitive. We can do it.

COCOA AND THE FARMERS’ POCKET

400 cocoa plants, with some shade trees will take up one acre. The space between the plants can be about 10 feet. From careful selection of cocoa varieties, with good cultural practices and management will get a farmer between 3,500 pounds and 5,500 pounds of wet cocoa per acre. Wet coca sells at much less than $1.00 per lb. We have to decide to produce a premium quality fermented and dried bean to get about $2.00 per lb with good bargaining. If we do our own export and trading overseas like WINFRESH does with banana, our gross earnings (and also our business administration) will be more. We are looking at say $7,000 to $11,000 per acre from selling the cocoa here to a trading company – ours, or somebody else’s. And by the way, the weekly banana tasks like deflowering, tieback and sleeving finish with; cocoa takes less work, once it is established and bearing. And then when it is coming up, we can plant provision, peas, cassava, a whole range of crops in between. It looks good, and perhaps when we have it well established, it could become our main commercial tree crop covering half of our tree crop acreage to about 6/8000 acres. That means ranging from 60 to $100 million dollars per year from cocoa. But some of my friends with vision ask me: Why not get our cocoa company to go for shares as a manufacturing business? I tell them, we can reach there if we aim for it from early.

WHERE DO WE START?

An SVG cocoa industry has to start with farmers – not with a law in parliament. To launch a cocoa industry in the year 2012, make cocoa conversation now in December 2011 and call the cocoa group to discuss more about it. If 200 farmers decide to do business with cocoa, we move to do paper work, to clear land, to call on the agriculture ministry and overseas agencies for help and guidance, and when the rain comes, we could be ready. Now is cocoa conversation time. January 2012 DV, we look forward to nationwide farmers’ discussion groups. Shall I write about chocolate next week?

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