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EU pushes for cocoa regrowth

Published:Thursday | March 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM


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Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

JAMAICA, ONE of only eight countries in the world that enjoy the designation of fine flavour cocoa, has been unable to ramp up production to take full advantage of this privileged position, despite having a guaranteed market of 1,400 tonnes and a doubling of cocoa prices on the international market between 2005-2010.

"We have a long way to go, even with this intervention," Steven Watson, secretary/manager of the Cocoa Industry Board (CIB) told the AgroGleaner at Tuesday's launch of Re-Engineering the Cocoa Rural Economy through Agro-processing Eco-Tourism & Entrepreneurship Project (RECREATE). The CIB, in partnership with the European Union (EU), will spend €350,000 ($40 million) in six parishes over the next 18 months in an effort to build on the gains of the previous EU project implemented from 2009 to 2011.

Between now and February 2013 the CIB, in collaboration with the agriculture ministry, will undertake to improve the cocoa nursery infrastructure at the Orange River Research Station in St Mary. The projection is that over this period some 200,000 plants, enough to plant out 500 new acres, will be produced, and it is anticipated that, thereafter, over the next five years these trees will produce 600 metric tonnes for the export market.

Already things are looking up, with the production during the first quarter of this crop year (which started in October) being well ahead of the 200 tonnes produced for all of the previous year. If things go according to plan, the annual output should reach 1,200 tonnes two years from now, but this is still way off the record high of some 3,800 tonnes achieved in the 1960s and annual output of 3,500 tonnes up to the mid-1990s.

Renew commercial interest

Orange River will provide enough plants to 'seed' a substantial cocoa nursery operation, which will then feed into the other aspects such as cocoa field management services, cocoa value-added processing, tourism attractions, farmer business training and rural small business development. Under RECREATE, the aim is to renew commercial interest in cocoa farming and provide sustainable income for young people in Clarendon, St Catherine, St James, St Mary, Portland and St Thomas. With the cocoa industry then flourishing it is hoped that private-sector interests will buy into it. However, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke is challenging them to invest now..

"We already have the quality and now we stand on the threshold of a major turnaround towards consistent supply and value-added niche marketing. We encourage the private sector to get on-board and partner with us to regain our position as quality producers on the world stage," Clarke told the launch.