The Cocoa Industry Board (CIB) is reporting an increase of more than 100 per cent in the production of cocoa for the crop year. Some 476.5 metric tonnes of cocoa, valued at $150.6 million, were produced during that crop year, as against the 2010/2011 crop year, which recorded 216.5 metric tonnes.
In an interview with JIS News, Co-ordinator for Extension Services at the CIB, Dunstan Gaynor, says the Board is committed to accelerating the growth of the cocoa industry, and in this regard, will undertake various initiatives to increase production.
Currently, an estimated 7,000 farmers are engaged in the farming of some 8,800 acres of cocoa across the island, with Clarendon recording the highest acreage.
The cocoa sector was given a boost in 2012, with the injection of €375,000 through the Rural Re-engineering Cocoa Rural Economy through Agro-processing, Eco-Tourism and Entrepreneurship (RECREATE) project.
Funding for the project was provided by the European Union (EU) early in the last decade when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) removed the preferential treatment for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bananas.
Ranked among the best exclusive producers of fine or flavoured cocoa by the International Cocoa Organisation (ICO), Jamaica presently exports cocoa to Japan, Switzerland, Holland, France and the United States of America.
According to Mr. Gaynor, the support of organizations such as the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the Jamaica 4-H Clubs is essential to the CIB achieving its target.
“The involvement of young people is also crucial to the sector. Each school with an on-going agricultural programme and adequate land will be assisted to set up a one-half to one acre of cocoa demonstration plot. Special attention will also be given to 4-H Clubs,” Mr. Gaynor said.
He explained that 4-H centres with existing cocoa plots will be assisted to rehabilitate these plots and those without will be assisted to establish one-acre plot. Cocoa is grown in almost every parish, but the major cocoa producing parishes are Clarendon, St. Mary, St. Catherine, St. Andrew and St. Thomas.
“We intend, in the short to medium term, to increase plant density from the present average of 250 to 400 plants per acre; improve cultural practices by providing training to farmers and other players, so as to improve productivity and to ensure that adequate and timely compensation is made to farmers and other players in the industry,” Mr. Gaynor said.
Requests for seedlings have been alarmingly high, he noted. “To date we have had requests for over 250,000 seedlings for planting between October 2013 and September 2014 and the CIB nursery capacity will be able to produce these and more,” he added.
The cocoa plant takes five to seven years to come into full bearing, but has a life span of 30 years. It is one of the easiest crops to grow, reap and market and is only second to the forest in protecting the soil from erosion.
Jamaica is looking to create the foundation for a modern, viable cocoa industry that will flourish and attract new investors, enhance rural livelihoods, encourage self-employment and maximize the country’s opportunity to continue receiving a premium price for the product on the world market.
The Cocoa Board is the implementing agency for the project and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has oversight responsibilities through a special unit at the Ministry that monitors the cocoa projects.