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Climate change and the cocoa industry

Published:Friday | December 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMMichael Leckie, Contributor
The impacts of climate change include sea-level rise, the erosion of coastal zones, more flooding of coastal areas, coral reef destruction, the spread of vector-borne diseases, and significant shifts in weather patterns, including more frequent and severe hurricanes and droughts

Climate change has been one of the most pressing issues on the global agenda for some time. But few were listening.

Today's state of the environment makes a compelling case for governments the world over to position climate change at the centre of their development agenda. For small island developing states (SIDS) like Jamaica, climate change is no longer important; it is an urgent imperative for state and non-state actors.

The impacts of climate change include sea-level rise, the erosion of coastal zones, more flooding of coastal areas, coral reef destruction, the spread of vector-borne diseases, and significant shifts in weather patterns, including more frequent and severe hurricanes and droughts. Tourism, health and the agricultural are some of the sectors that are being directly impacted by climate change in our nation.

Jamaica's agricultural sector has been struggling for decades, with contribution to GDP declining from 7.5 per cent of in 1982 to 4.8 per cent in 2008. There was an uptick with contribution to GDP reaching 6.8 per cent in 2012. The sector has proved vulnerable to weather conditions and the impact of natural disasters, but is also affected by structural weaknesses such as challenges relating to titling and the transfer of lands, as well as limited access to capital.


Persistent drought

Maybe the biggest challenge that has faced the agricultural sector has been the persistent drought over the last three years. The impact on the cocoa industry has been devastating. Although a far cry from its heyday in the 1990s when export of cocoa topped 2,000 tonnes, the value of cocoa export signifies a revitalisation of the industry up to 2012.

Year $ Value of Cocoa Export 2008-2013 (US '000)

2008 - 796

2009 - 1,778

2010 - 1,021

2011 - 1,108

2012 - 1,936

2013 - 504

Source: Ministry of Agriculture

The 74 per cent decline in 2013 over 2012 represents the largest decline over the eight-year period. Cocoa bean loss has increased significantly as a result of the drought moving from five per cent to between 25 and 30 per cent, especially during the spring crop, which runs from April-June.

Jamaica's cocoa industry observes high standards and rejects small beans during sorting and grading, which translates into millions of dollars in lost revenue given the high percentage of rejected beans during drought conditions. The biggest loss is being experienced in Clarendon, Jamaica's largest cocoa-producing parish.

The impact of the drought is also obvious at the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers' Association's (JCFA's) drying and fermentation facility at Trout Hall in Clarendon, with output of dried beans declining from 1,203 bags in 2014 to 435 so far this year. Output of dried beans at the Woodside facility in St Mary has declined by 65 per cent over the same period. Cocoa farms in the parish have been affected by the drought and fires have ravaged the land and disrupted farming activities in the short term.


The greatest tragedy

Efforts to revitalise the cocoa industry are being undermined by global warming and climate change. International partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID, the European Union (EU) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have made significant investment in the industry to rehabilitate cocoa orchards, capacity building in terms of improving systems and training farmers and moving the industry towards value-added. The millions invested to achieve gains in the cocoa industry have largely been erased through the effects of the drought.

The greatest tragedy, however, is the suffering of the approximately 11,000 cocoa farmers who depend on this resilient crop to sustain their families. They have seen their incomes slashed significantly while they continue to suffer. This is a national tragedy unknown to most Jamaicans and largely ignored by policymakers.

There is no quick fix for those who have lost entire cocoa orchards through fire and who will have to find the necessary funding to replant trees that will take a minimum of three years to harvestable maturity. The average cocoa farmer is a small farmer and as usual he stands alone.

A main goal of agricultural reforms is to achieve sustainable livelihoods, especially for the 77 per cent of small farmers who are mainly senior citizens and who are among the most vulnerable groups in the society. The setback from the drought is a timely reminder to Jamaica that the agricultural sector is still vulnerable and requires sustained and strategic interventions to address environmental as well as structural weaknesses.

We lose markets when we cannot meet our production quotas. Our farmers lose income when we lose markets and livelihoods are destroyed.

Until now, Jamaica has done a lot of talking about climate change and we have left the talk to government and advocates. The persistent drought has taught us a valuable lesson. We must urgently widen the dialogue to include our farmers in the fields and take practical steps to improve mitigation efforts and do more to support small farmers to recover quickly from natural or man-made disaster through, among other things, access to new technologies and methods to face our new reality.

- Michael Leckie is a cocoa farmer and a member of the board of the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers Association. Email feedback to