July 25, 2014
Not enough cocoa was planted – Caesar

The failure by farmers here to cultivate a sufficiently high acreage of cocoa, may be a key factor that led to the St Vincent Cocoa Company (SVCC) closing up shop in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar, during a media briefing on Wednesday,{{more}} said that the SVCC, a subsidiary of Armajaro Trading Company, had projected to cultivate between 5000 and 7000 acres of cocoa, but over the last four years, they were only able to rehabilitate 50 acres of cocoa lands, and plant 200 new acres, and had enough plantlets to cultivate another 200 acres.

Caesar said that this was not enough to satisfy the expectations of the SVCC.

“The St Vincent Cocoa Company has been in collaboration with several international agencies who were very supportive of the development of the industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but at the end of the day… the two hundred acres that they were able to develop over the past four years, and without any signs on the horizon that there is going to be an exponential increase in terms of acreage that it did not make the St Vincent operation a viable one, because there would not be able to reach the economies of scales for them to break even.

“It was always in the discussions from the start that as an investor, there was the possibility for significant growth in the sector and how much space that they could occupy, and let us not think that we could survive without producing on economies of scales, so if they did not envisage that they would not have gotten the economies of scale from the 7000 acres they would not have started,” Caesar said.

According to the minister, it was hoped that local farmers would eventually gravitate from the practice of intercropping – growing multiple produce at the same time, and move to what is called “pure stand cocoa,” where only cocoa was planted on the lands.

“In St Vincent and the Grenadines there are many persons over the last 15 to 20 years who do multiple forms of cultivation. There are persons who are into bananas but they sell also dasheens, there are persons who are into yams, but they also do tannia and eddoes and they have their cattle… so the 7000 acres was synonymous to a push for pure stand cocoa… but persons did not buy in from the start to having pure stand cocoa plots; everybody wanted it intercropped.

“With the intercropping you might have ten acres of land, but end up with four acres of cocoa. So that was something that was imbedded in our culture, that I think wasn’t properly judged from the start because coming in, it may have been the perception that persons would have just gone into the cocoa, because there was the discussion that after you would have intercropped, you would have become pure stand cocoa farmers.”

The minister also took into consideration that a lot of the land that was suitable for cocoa farming was not easily accessible because of the absence of infrastructure.

He noted that some lands were located in areas where roads had not been constructed, which would make it difficult to farm, and that this made them more suitable for subsistence farming rather than commercial farming.

The SVCC notified Government on July 17 of their intention to wind down operations here. Under the Memorandum of Agreement signed between the Government and Armajaro in 2011, Armajaro was supposed to give two years notice of their intention to discontinue operations. As this was not done, the company has agreed to leave their assets, including 200 acres of well established cocoa, a gene bank, a nursery with 200,000 plantlets and a wealth of research information, for the Government to continue.

Armajaro was recently sold to Ecom Agroindustrial Corporation. Armajaro had reported a US$7.5 million loss and negative cash flow in its fiscal year ending September 2012.(JJ)