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With the global demand for fine flavor cocoa increasing, one Caribbean company wants to be the model for other regional cocoa farmers to follow.

Overcoming the current challenges facing the cocoa sector in the Caribbean region requires rethinking the current economic model, and this is a project being undertaken by the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company which was established as a public-private partnership with the aim of rehabilitating the cocoa sector. According to the company founder, Ashley Parasram, “the focus is not just looking at the basic economic return, it is also looking at what we need to do to stimulate the sector, remove barriers to trade and create brand awareness to develop opportunities further.”

As the raw materials, production process and marketing of fine flavor cocoa to consumers is complicated, Parasram believes that transforming the Fine Flavor Cocoa Industry in the Caribbean will take five to ten years. Critical to this transformation is developing a sustainable economic model, and that requires increased cooperation and sharing of information amongst cocoa farmers. To aid this effort, Parasram has undertaken site visits to meet with cocoa farmers across the Caribbean region including Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Mexico. He plans to eventually visit all the major producers of fine flavor cocoa in the Caribbean region to document their unique strengths, and this also includes Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Venezuela.

The goal from these assessment visits is to create a roadmap to build and ultimately leverage partnerships to educate the consumer thereby increasing demand, reducing the number of intermediaries in the global value chain, lending to increasing profits for local farmers and also work to overcome the operational challenges in some countries to ensure consistency. These operational challenges include expensive electricity, lack of processing capacity, lack of distribution logistics or packaging and technical labeling skills.

Simplification of the global value chain is necessary to increase profits for cocoa farmers. Using Trinidad & Tobago as an example, there are typically eight participants in the cocoa global value chain including the cocoa farmer, fermenter, exporter, buyer, importer, processor, chocolatier and then the retailer who sells to the consumer. And with the retailer accounting for up to 30% of the cost, there is very little profit for the other seven in the global value chain controlled by a small number of large trading and processing companies. This control by a few companies often ends up with cocoa farmers achieving minimal profit for their harvest. This imbalance needs to change in the Caribbean to support the investment required to increase production and capture more of the fine flavor cocoa market valued at US$4 billion annually.

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Deidre Brathwaite