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On the block with cocoa – Part:1

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A modern Vincentian cocoa industry is ready and waiting for some agency to get it going. Well, I am not waiting. Even though the sun is hot, the land is parched and tough and the brush/weeds that cover the soil try to “highfall” me when I pass through it – how it is stiff and wiry – I am on cocoa business.{{more}} In fact, one of my colleagues, who has much more agribusiness experience than me, keeps pounding my head with his message. Cocoa is the only crop that farmers can get a future from. Sam Barnwell is already on the cocoa track with new and old cocoa fields looking good. I have cleared my first acre of land for cocoa and I am going to start my cocoa field with plantains.

As farmers, we know that we can’t plant one crop, we have to mix it; but here is why cocoa must be part of the mix. First of all, the land wants cocoa, the farming ecosystem is hungry for cocoa and we have a good portion of idle farmland ready for cocoa. It is a good tree crop with deep roots, bush falling every day, nice canopy of leaves and branches to keep the place cool and encourage lizards and birds. It will bear pods all year round, but with 6 months fairly loaded with cocoa and 6 months with fewer pods. In Belize, in Tobago, in Grenada, they even have “cocoa tours” for tourists to visit and luxuriate in the cool breeze under the cocoa trees, you think cocoa easy!

Right now, farmers are motivated with positive energy to try something new and cocoa is not so new, really. It is like an old cousin whom we ain’t see for a good while, and what we know is that this old cousin has new virtue. Our SVG cocoa sells for twice the price of the bulk of cocoa on the market. Fourteen countries out of 50 have quality cocoa like us. And here we are sitting down, relaxing on cocoa gold. Business teachers say that we have “comparative advantage” with our cocoa. They mean we must stop waiting, we must start cultivating. The people we are waiting for- Armajaro Trading – they seem to be gone fishing, trying to learn a thing or two to come and teach us about cocoa, but you know something, we can teach ourselves. We have to teach ourselves, because our modern cocoa industry will be quite different from the older industry.

In today’s Vincy Cocoa industry, we have to concentrate on bringing out the quality and flavor from the chemistry of the cocoa bean – after we pick and burst the cocoa. We have to ferment the cocoa beans to get the right flavour and the right price. We can’t sell anybody cocoa unless we ferment it. Waste of time and loss of money if we do that.

START THE COCOA CULTIVATION

There are two ways to start cocoa cultivation. The first way is to refresh the old cocoa trees. Cut them back. If the stem of the old cocoa is healthy and firm, cut off the top and let new sucker growth develop. Paint the cut surface with an insecticide paste or oil paint. There are other similar techniques for rehabilitating an old field. Do not chop back all the trees at one time. Leave some to produce fruit until the cut backs begin to bear.

To plant a new field, you have to plant other trees and crops in order to prepare for the cocoa. The cocoa will need shade trees like banana as a start and larger trees like nutmeg and avocado. Plant them now as we are getting a little shower activity. The other cultivation to prepare for cocoa is the windbreak, where the wind is regular, put in the windbreaks now too. I am going to start by later this week.

Now, the cocoa plants themselves, that is the next step to consider. I have told many farmers that we must look for new and improved varieties of Caribbean cocoa to plant. Where do we get them? Look out next week; I am going to ask the Agriculture Ministry for the answer to that.

As we get going on this new venture, we need to do this thing as a Vincentian cocoa & chocolate producers’ cooperative. The SVG Cooperative League, the cooperative division, the cocoa group and the Ministry of Agriculture are going into action to bring this co-op to birth. Until next week, keep the talk going.

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