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Counting on Cocoa
Several of the world’s chocolate experts have predicted a major shortage of the delectable sweets by 2020 due to diminishing cocoa supplies, mainly from the African content.
In fact, according to online news site UPI.com, about 70 per cent of the total world supply of cocoa comes from West Africa which is currently suffering from drought conditions due to dry weather, and a fungal disease called frosty pod.
This predicted shortage could give this country a foot up on the international market if the local cocoa industry can figure out their own shortcomings, which is not disease or drought but labour, according to Esmond Giffard.
He has been involved in the industry for the last 20 years and was a technical officer in the now defunct Cocoa & Coffee Industry Board of T&T.
The board was disbanded earlier this year to make way for a new entity called the Cocoa Development Company of T&T. The new company is expected to help cocoa farmers gain greater access to international markets. He believes there is great potential for the industry and the chance to earn major income whether there is a shortage or not.
The 53-year-old, who has a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and post graduate qualifications in project planning, said his confidence stems from the quality of cocoa that T&T produces.
“It has great potential because it is one of the top cocoas in the world in terms of taste and that is based on what the world market has assigned to it,” he said, while speaking with the T&T Guardian at the former head office of the Cocoa & Coffee Industry Board of T&T at Yard Street, Chaguanas.
The cocoa produced by this country is sought after by many international companies from countries like Japan, Germany and Holland. This is because we produce flavour cocoa whereas countries like Africa produce bulk cocoa. The difference is in the taste and because of the type of cocoa that this country produces many of the bigger companies like Hershey’s are not willing to pay the price that is charged per metric tonne.
According to him, bulk cocoa could fetch about US$2,800 per metric tonne but flavour cocoa can get around US$5,000 for the same amount. This means the predicted of shortage could have a very positive impact on the local industry’s profits.
“It’s a simple supply-and-demand situation. It should affect us positively because of the potential of the local cocoa industry. Remember this is just based on the cocoa beans that we produce. My belief is our industry has the potential to supply these companies.”
He admitted, though, that even with this great potential the industry has been producing less cocoa over the years by about 40 per cent. He said this may be because the work on cocoa plantations is very intensive but he added that he was confused as to why there are not enough workers because people are usually well paid for their efforts and work usually lasts between five to seven hours.
It is because of this lack of labour that many cocoa plantations are closing down because many of the owners who are over 50 years old have to do the work for themselves and they are not able to harvest cocoa every week, as it is meant to be.
Besides labour there is a need for better infrastructure like better access roads for the farmers and the addition of machines to help farmers reap and sort cocoa. There must also be a re-education of the farmers because a lot of their methods are not based on science, he added.
“We must educate train and develop farmers so that they understand that if they are short on productivity it means income loss. We must also train them so that they can understand if we give a better quality of cocoa we can get a better price. They also need things like harvesters.
If these issues can be resolved the nation’s cocoa output could be doubled long before 2020, he added.
Renowned chocolatier Lesley-Ann Jurawan and owner of Delft Cocoa Plantations also lamented the shortage of labour but was also in high praise of the quality of cocoa that this country produces.
“When you do get labour the lack of access roads makes it really problematic just to go in and out. If I had the right labour I could make at least a couple tonnes annually,” she said while speaking during an interview with the T&T Guardian at her home in Palmiste, San-Fernando.
She has been involved in the industry since 2009 and produces her own chocolate products and has her own cocoa plantation in Gran Couva as well. She also sits on the board of directors at the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers Corporative.
Jurawan, who travelled to Belgium to learn chocolate-making techniques, admits that she did not know anything about the industry before she got involved but is now in love with it.
She also believes that T&T can profit from a shortage.
“The shortage might make a difference to us because the foreign companies’ ability to buy premium cocoa might be affected because out of the world’s supply of cocoa only about five per cent is called fine flavour, which we produce.”
She added, though, that since T&T does not sell bulk cocoa it would be difficult to tell how much of an impact the shortage would have. Also the product from T&T would have to become more consistent in its taste recognition.
Jurawan believes that there should be more promotion of the local chocolate industry and believes there should be even more events to showcase the talent of chocolatiers.
“The trend is picking up because whenever a food fare or craft show is held, local chocolates are now becoming expected. It’s also a big thing for corporate gifts now.”
If the industry is to get where it needs to be several organisations will have to come together to make it happen.
“It’s a circulation problem. It must be a combined effort from several different directions. People don’t want to produce because they are not getting enough money and this means that internationally we cannot produce the quantity that they need.
“Somebody has to take a chance and line up the foreign buyers and assure them that will get the quantity that they want yearly while simultaneously supporting farmers with a higher price.”
The government has also stepped in and offered several incentives like reduced cocoa plants and prices on equipment for farming to help encourage farmers to take advantage of what could be a very profitable industry.
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