Round Table with Oscar
March 24, 2017

Drinking watery chocolate tea

The world is waking up to our cocoa and chocolate tea, while our agriculture policy makers are still asleep or dozing. According to Professor Umarahan of the UWI St Augustine, in a Caribvision programme on Sunday, March 12, 2017, the international price for well-fermented and dried fine Caribbean cocoa is five to six times the price of regular ‘bulk’ cocoa. Regular cocoa sells internationally at about US$3,000 per ton, or EC$4 per pound. So by my arithmetic, well processed Vincy cocoa could be worth EC$20 per pound and more on the industry market. WOW!

Just compare the industry price of $20 per pound for fermented and dried beans with the price of EC$1.50 that our farmers receive from the St Vincent Cocoa Company (SVCC) for the fresh beans in the pods. It works out to 7.5 per cent of the price of the same beans when dried, and no bonus for cocoa growers to look forward to. Even the former estate mills of 100 years ago used to pay farmers a bonus sum for their arrowroot crops! With proud condscension and smiling faces, the cocoa company is sharing out to its farmers watered-down chocolate tea, and requesting them to say ‘Thank you, Masa’, and no­body seems to be noticing. The goal of the SVCC is to cultivate 2,000 acres of co­coa, yielding 2,000 tons of beans and earning each year some EC$80 million gross export income, and much more if it goes into manufacturing cocoa products.

In a 2015 report on the extortion of earnings from cocoa farmers worldwide, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD) made this finding:

Cocoa farmers receive less than 6.6 per cent of the total value added to one ton of (their) cocoa beans that are sold.(visit:­coa farmers)

Stated more plainly, manufacturers earn 15 times (1,500 per cent of) what they pay farmers for cocoa beans.

We note that from the Wall Street Journal on February 9, to SPORE, the ACP/EU magazine in March, to Caribvision last week, to SEARCHLIGHT’s ROUND TABLE today, the world media is excited about our “Brown Gold” and its health and economic prospects, while we play doltish and auction it off to the lowest bidder, satisfied to enjoy their watery chocolate tea.

It was somewhere between the last days of the NDP/Mitchell administration and the early years of the Labour regime that cocoa got kicked aside as a serious crop. The cocoa germplasm bank at the Walilabou agricultural station closed down and farmers had to deal with diseases, old unproductive trees and post-harvest processing on their own. When, a few years later, the ACP/EU Cotonou programme launched a five-year fine cocoa investment programme in the Carib­bean, the seven countries that jumped on board did not include SVG because our development model looked at farmers just as hoemen and saleswomen, rather than as value chain economic actors. They killed cocoa as a farmers-based industry. Just look closely at the model that policy-makers promote for agro-industrial development. The model focuses on two variants: one, a wholly-owned government facility, inefficiently operated, as in the case of the cassava factory, arrowroot factory, Lauders agro processing plant and fishing complex. The second variant is the foreign-owned or led monopoly agro-industry. The recent examples are Armajaro, its offspring, the SVCC, to be followed by the coffee company. After dis­man­tling/ap­pro­­­­priating the Statutory Banana Associa­tion and WINBAN, the policy seems to be: send farmers back to primary agriculture and their wives to home processing and selling produce. Close and lock the gate of equity/shares in agro-industry. I mean, when the cocoa company, with government support, declares that farmers cannot have shares in fermenting and drying cocoa technology, it is sending rural people back into kindergarden/infancy – real watered-down chocolate tea.