Jamaica to Boost Cocoa Production

Map of Jamaica

Map of Jamaica

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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5 thoughts on “Jamaica to Boost Cocoa Production

  1. Dianne

    Hi Michael

    Thanks for sharing your research on this. With so much fanfare with Cadbury’s going partially fair trade, it’s really interesting to hear the viewpoint of another chocolate company.

    I was taken by your point about certification being a means of verifying that claims made are true, but in this case, where TCHO has stated it’s philosophy and approach to buying, it raises a couple of questions for me –

    If companies like TCHO and the producers they are in partnership with both feel they are benefiting from the relationship, then why would they need to do anything more? What benefit would certification provide for them? What would be their motivation for going through, what many may describe, as a costly, cumbersome, and bureaucratic certification process?

    As a supporter and believer in fair trade, I worry that fairtrade certification could develop the characteristics of the Total Quality Management movement of the 90’s, where certification provided no benefits to those involved, except the certifiers.

    Interested to hear what you think.

  2. Michael Niemann

    Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, there is a danger that the process of certification becomes so cumbersome that even those with the best intentions are deterred.

    But let’s remember what certification is all about. It is a means to let consumers know that the claims made on a product package were checked out by someone who does not have a direct stake in the sale of that product. If a company feels that it has established a beneficial relationship with cocoa producers, why not take that extra step and have it certified?

    At least in the U.S., the so-called “ethical” consumer segment has become big enough to attract attention from all kinds of producers. Many of the folks who buy “ethical” products happen to have levels of disposable income that make them very attractive targets. So we have a proliferation of “ethical” claims. Starbucks has its own standards, Whole Foods Market has its own standards. Without third party certification, how am I to know that all these competing claims of “fair,” “fairly traded” or “beyond fairtrade” are actually meaningful and not just a marketing ploy?

    Maybe I’m too suspicious, but I remember what happened to the term “natural” or when the big food corporations discovered “organic.”

    As to your second comment. Yes, that’s a phenomenon here too. Dunkin Donuts, a nation-wide chain of donut shops started sourcing fairtrade coffee for its espresso drinks but doesn’t mention that at all. I think many companies feel that once they decided to carry one fairtrade product it might generate pressure to convert their other products as well.

  3. Dianne

    Hi Michael

    I agree with you – how do consumers know if a company really is fair and ethically trading? It’s a dilemma that probably doesn’t have an answer – where is the balance between a bureaucratic cumbersome system that seems to me will exclude the very producers it has been designed to support – and a system that gives consumers confidence that a company is trading fairly and ethically?

    I did a bit of research into the companies in NZ mentioned on the link I gave you. In fact I rang one of them just to confirm what I felt I was seeing on their site – and that is that the company chooses to buy some product from a certified source, but doesn’t go down the path of obtaining a FT license for that product – and didn’t feel the need to.

    And I guess this was what I was alluding to in my 1st comment – if a company is successful, like TCHO – and is able to convince the customers that care that it is ethical – then what is their motivation to go down the certification path?

    And at the end of the day, though – it’s about the producers isn’t it. And the workers, particularly in the cocoa business with respect to using slave labour. I don’t have any answers – just lots and lots of questions…..

    I think it would be great to hear what producers have to say – not from the companies who have fair trade certified products (as I feel these are more marketing ploys than truth) – but from independent sources that don’t have an interest in selling a product….

    I’ve come across a couple of volunteers who have / are writing blogs about their experiences in developing countries – one person was working for a fair trade banana co-operative in Ecuador, the other is now in Ghana talking to the farmers there. These have proved to be insightful stories about producers.

    I think we need to know more about what producers think and want. What do you think?

  4. Mercadees

    HELP! I can not find anything about Rat Trap Jamaica! I have a HUGE project due in like 5 weeks all about Jamaica! It has to be made into a book. Please help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!