The Jamaican cocoa sector has received a grant worth US$2.5 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to increase production and lift quality standards, and to develop a nursery for high-yield, disease-resistant cocoa varieties that retain the unique flavour of Jamaican fine cocoa. The project is to be implemented in association with the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers’ Association (JCFA), which in 2012 initiated its first direct exports since 1957, moving beyond the monopoly marketing role of the state-run Cocoa Industry Board (CIB). JCFA currently sells its cocoa mainly to the French chocolate company Valrhona under a 10-year supply agreement. Direct exports of cocoa to the American company Hershey also take place, with the company expressing interest in any surpluses available. However, the effects of Hurricane Sandy are expected to reduce JCFA production in 2013 to “only 30% of normal production”.
Despite these gloomy production prospects, the president of the JCFA commented that “the quality of beans provided by the farmers of the JCFA is greatly appreciated and now fetches almost double the New York trade commodity exchange price for cocoa beans.” This contrasts markedly with the findings of a 2008 study financed by USAID, which found that “farmers were receiving approximately 40 per cent of the contracted price for cocoa.” It also stands in sharp contrast to media reports suggesting that some cocoa farmers’ groups had not been paid by the CIB for over a year.
More broadly, JCFA has aspirations to “move the industry towards value-added with at least two cocoa-based products manufactured in Jamaica for the primary purpose of export”, and government is extending assistance to the JCFA in the form of “a commitment to help with equipment and sending Jamaicans overseas to train as chocolatiers”. It is recognised that if this aspiration to develop a value-added chocolate industry is to be realised, then cocoa production will need to be substantially higher than current production levels. In the short term, however, JCFA may be able to expand the volume of cocoa available to fulfil its contractual commitments by attracting more cocoa farmers into joining the association, which was established in May 2008.
The JCFA is seeking to address two critical issues that are common across the Caribbean agro-food sector: inadequate supply capacity (i.e. low productivity/yields and scale of production) and market positioning (i.e. still trading commodities rather than marketing quality-differentiated and value-added products).
Expanding supply is essential if the growing demands of major end users of fine cocoa are to be met and local value-added production is to be developed, and the IADB-funded programme of support for propagation of high-yield, disease-resistant varieties potentially begins to deal with supply issues.
Developing production and marketing of value-added products from local cocoa beans has been a long and shared goal of all Caribbean cocoa producers. There are already several local chocolatiers producing and marketing high-quality cocoa products (particularly in Grenada and Trinidad). Research and training efforts are expanding this value-added production base, while JCFA continues to demonstrate a serious commitment to its stated objective to “encourage the formation of local processors to create a Jamaican Cocoa brand”.
The strong market-led orientation of JCFA would appear to provide a clear indication of the way forward for local value-added processing across the Caribbean. This focuses on supporting the development of higher-value local processing, but accompanied by targeted marketing of fine cocoa into high-value market components, moving away from trading cocoa as an undifferentiated commodity.
However, two critical issues face JCFA, namely reducing its dependence on donor funding by finding a sustainable model for self-financing of its various programmes and the future evolution of its relationship with the CIB, the statutory body, which continues to play the dominant role in the sector. The relationship may be complicated by JCFA’s continuing efforts to draw more cocoa farmers into the association to increase its supply base, a move which reduces the constituency served by the CIB.