Jamaica is gearing up to boost its cocoa production dramatically. The Jamaican Information Service, reporting from a Jamaica Trade and Investment seminar, highlights a consultant’s assessment that the island has the infrastructure to handle 3,000 tons of cocoa, over six times the current output of 440 tons.
There’s little doubt that the current high prices are part of the the incentive to rehabilitate the cocoa sector. But there is a confluence of other factors. According to Radio Jamaica, the U.S. Agency for International Development has pledged its assistance during a visit of Agriculture Minister Tufton to Washington, D.C. Tufton also plans on meeting with development NGOs that could support the rehabilitation project. The World Cocoa Foundation is already on board.
Finally, chocolate maker TCHO has expressed interest in buying cocoa from Jamaica. TCHO prefers to deal directly with cocoa farmers in order to build “relationships with producers and work with them to address the issue of quality.” Since most cocoa in Jamaica is grown by small farmers, that should not be a problem. One hopes that the price paid to the farmers matches the expectation of quality
TCHO states on its website that “Rather than simply paying for certifications, TCHO empowers farmers with the tools they can use to make a better product: technology, knowledge transfer, and the motivation to innovate. TCHO firmly believes that the best, longest lasting change rests on the win-win of mutual self-interest—we get better beans, the farmer gets better prices.” That sounds really nice, but the point of certification is, of course, a third party verifying that the claims made are true. It does not prohibit or limit any of the other empowerment objectives.
Jamaica is one of a rather small number of producer countries in the Western Hemisphere that export what the ICCO calls “fine and flavor” cocoa, that is, cocoa that constitutes the basis for almost all high-end chocolate sold in the world. It represents a tiny but growing segment of the world market given the boom in the sales of luxury chocolates.
It’s taken almost a century to see the revival of cocoa production in the Caribbean. François Ruf, who coined the theory of forest rent and related cocoa migration, has shown how cocoa plantations on the islands grew too old around the turn of the last century and production moved to Africa. The rehabilitation in Jamaica is only one example of cocoa’s rebirth in the region. It may also signal a failure of development policies that aimed to move at least some of the islands away from reliance on agricultural commodities. But that’s another blog entry.
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