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Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar. (IWN file photo)
Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar. (IWN file photo)
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The St. Vincent Cocoa Company (SVCC) decided to cease operations because it no longer sees local production as “a viable one” in light of their targeted acreage of cocoa cultivation.

The SVCC is a subsidiary of Armajaro Holdings Ltd., which in November 2013 sold its soft commodities trading unit to Ecom Agroindustrial Corp., the world’s second-biggest coffee and third-largest cocoa trader.

SVCC, which was established when the Ralph Gonsalves governemtn signed a 50-year agreement with Armajaro in 2011, had a target of cultivating 5,000 acres of cocoa in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Some persons, from the get go, said that this was very ambitious, taking into consideration that here in St. Vincent and the Grenadine we have some 18,000 acres of land basically left for agriculture,” Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar told a press conference on Wednesday.

“That was a big number and over the last four years, they were only able to rehabilitate 50 acres and to plant 200 new acres,” he said.

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The company has 200,000 plantlets in nurseries, which will eventually take local cultivation up to 500 acres.

Caesar said the SVCC has been collaborating with several international agencies, which were supportive.

He, however, said that Ruth Maloney, who is responsible for the company’s new ventures, “noted clearly that the 200 acres that they have been able to develop over the past 4 years, and without any signs on the horizon that there is going to be an exponential increase in terms of the acreage, it did not make the St. Vincent and the Grenadine operation a viable one, because they would not be able to reach the economies of scale for them to break even”.

I-Witness News broke the news on Saturday that the SVCC had informed the government that is it ceasing its operations in SVG.

Caesar said the company will transfer its operations to the Ministry of Agriculture and cease operations by the end of August.

“So, when we hear that it is touted that the Cocoa Company has pulled up and left, the Cocoa Company, as it is dealing with the cultivation of cocoa, that is no longer, and the memorandum of agreement, they are in the process of writing for a cancellation of it,” he said.

The minister said SVCC is transferring its nurseries, gene bank, and research over the last four years to the ministry.

The company will keep some of its staff until the end of August so that the transition can be properly managed, Caesar said, adding that the company’s lawyer, Louise Mitchell-Joseph, has said that all the labour issues were taken care of.

He said that in light of the development it is very important to examine the economic viability and sustainability of the cocoa industry going forward.

Fine flavoured cocoa in grown in St. Vincent, which is in extremely high demand, Caesar said, and told reporters that the owners of SVGC has said that once SVG is able to provide the requisite quality and quantity, “it is an option that is left for us to explore”.

He said he has communicated with the Ministry of Agriculture and the cocoa corporative in Grenada to share information and collaborate on technical matters for the advancement of the cocoa industry in St. Vincent.

The market for locally produced cocoa beans is important in assessing the viability of the sector, Caesar said, adding that  local demand for chocolate for the making of “cocoa tea” peaks around Christmas and Carnival.

“We are going to provide the requisite incentive for persons who intend to increase their production and productivity,” he said, giving as example persons who want to purchase larger hand mills.

But Caesar admitted that the demand for chocolate stick is expect to take up only a very small portion of the cocoa produced.

He, however, said some persons in SVG have expressed a preference for the commencement of the production of chocolate bars.

The Industry Division and the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to work closely with persons in the private sector to ensure that there is “the requisite incentive framework … to ensure they receive the kind of support that is important in the start-up phase of production,” he said.

The government will explore on behalf of farmers the possibility of exporting to regional and extra-regional markets, Caesar said, adding that Grenada had since 2010 expressed interest in purchasing cocoa for processing.

“So, from a purely marketing standpoint, I think that the markets are good and that we will be able to market our cocoa, and therefore, persons who have established cocoa plantations or cocoa fields, whether it was before Armajaro came or since Armajaro came, I don’t think we have an issue to be unduly worried about…

“In fact, I have always noted that I count this situation as one which must be contextualised as an opportunity missed to partner with an international cocoa distributor and to have them work with you not only at the back end to purchase and market, but, on the front end, to help you to cultivate.

“Whilst we … had that opportunity and it has gone, in terms of the cultivation aspect of it, we have an excellent opportunity to create a home-grown indigenous, multi-faceted in all its dimension, a fledging cocoa industry and subsector,” Caesar said.

He expressed gratitude to Armajaro, Ecom, and St. Vincent Cocoa Company, for having chosen St. Vincent and the Grenadines, saying that because of the partnership cocoa cultivation has increased.

4 replies on “Cocoa Company says SVG operation not ‘viable’”

  1. Caesar is dreaming in Technicolor. He and the government missed an opportunity to mass produce cocoa throughout SVG. They went about the issue with blinders on their eyes. They seem to concentrate everything they do on the Windward side, where their support is presumably strong. I’ve had several conversations with Oscar Allen who was looking seriously at the cocoa production. He wanted to set up meetings with cocoa farmers from every corner of the island. This is what the minister and the government should have done; instead they sat on the hands, probably holding their little willies – of course that’s if they have any.
    There are farming lands in the Layou area that has not seen, not even a tomato plant, for more than 10 years. These are vacant lands that can be utilized to plant cocoa. The agriculture department should have had a team to investigate vacant and available lands to accommodate cocoa plantations. The team would have found the required acres to make the venture viable. The minister did piss-all for cocoa; instead he put on his water boots and went into some rotten, dead and unproductive banana fields for a photo op.
    The Cocoa Company had no help from the government, the minister and the people in his ministry. This is one investment that came during this government’s time in office and they blew it. The government‘s attitude toward agriculture and farmers is deplorable. They have eyes and ears for only two things – tourism and the airport. Incidentally both are a failure and main land SVG is far behind other islands in attracting tourist to the island.
    This quote from the Minister of Agriculture shows his lack of vision for the job: The market for locally produced cocoa beans is important in assessing the viability of the sector, Caesar said, adding that local demand for chocolate for the making of “cocoa tea” peaks around Christmas and Carnival.
    This minister thinks that Carnival and Christmas will generate the necessary funds to make cocoa a viable commodity for farmers. People in the Diaspora have grown accustomed to coffee and tea, that the demand for cocoa tea will be way down the line. He’s also dreaming of markets for farmers to sell their product. He can’t or doesn’t travel; only Ralph and Baby Doc leave the island. So where will he find these cocoa markets? The few cocoa farmers will soon follow the Cocoa Company and pull out of the cocoa business. They have heard all these broken promises before. There is nothing credible that this government and this minister can put forward that folks will believe. I won’t be surprise if folks start calling the Saboto the Minister of Cocoa Tea.
    I won’t be surprise if Ralph doesn’t use this cocoa fiasco to paint Saboto as an incompetent minister, who needs to be replaced. This is an easy way to clear the deck; so baby Doc can step on board, with no obstructions in the way. I haven’t been wrong so far on clearing the deck of the Titanic.

  2. Unbelievable, every single thing the government does fail. Way really going on? failure after failure, way happen only the people in government suppose to make money?. You mean to tell me you signed a 50 year contract and you didn’t even know if it would be viable venture, are you all flipping kidding me? This is not a joke, how could you lock up our country for 50 years without a viability study? these are Vincentians born and yet to be born who were going to be at the mercy of this company. Do you all even care?

    I want to know what is the government’s objectives, because it sure it not for the development of the country. You could give away galvernise and laptop and anything else you want or build building until God come, but unless there is commerce in a country you have failed, people are walking like zombies without anything to do in our country. SVG has nothing going on, Nothing, every single damn thing gone, left dead or dying, every single industry that we had is no more. No agriculture, no manufacturing, no tourism, nothing. We have become a country of beggars relying on our relatives outside to support us. You cannot even go to the fields and get banana and stew some chicken anymore, because SVG no longer plan banana on an island wide basis. People are desperate, DESPERATE.

    Do you all understand that? What the hell have you all been doing for 14 years? Making yourself rich and the people suffering, This thing really sickens my stomach, to see my country brought to it’s knees by a party that broadcast hate everyday and do wickedness. Vincentians when are you all going to get rid of these people. Muddawuk

  3. C. ben-David says:

    Lack of economies of scale was the reason for the demise of several other cash crops, most notably sugar cane production and sugar processing. It is the curse of being a tiny and very hilly island in a world with a huge amount of flat arable land.

    Except for the Grenadines, tourism is also limited by our black volcanic-sand beaches and dense coastal population.

    What to do? For many Vincentians, permanent or recurrent migration to other lands, has been the answer to few opportunities at home. But this option is shrinking all the time.

    I’m afraid the prospects for sustained economic growth are bleak. We will do well if we can even tread water.

    As Minister Caeser’s frank comments suggest, the Labour Party has no answer to our economic woes. And all the Prime Minister seems able to do is beg for money all about and borrow money wherever he can all the while aware that these funds can never be repaid. And where is much of this money spent? On fancy new construction projects in Kingstown, Argle and elsewhere, none of which are capable of contributing to long-term economic development.

    I am afraid we will soon end up like Greece: placed on heavy manners by the international lending agencies, forced to lay off hundreds, if not thousands, of civil servants, while cutting the pensions of already cash-strapped retirees and reducing public services below their already inadequate levels.

    The opposition NDP? There is no evidence whatsoever that they are capable of doing any better.

  4. Another company bites the dust in SVG. Where do we go from here Ralphie boy? Some Vincentian say that your strength is your mouth. (PS. I do hope you are using your mouth for the right reasons and in the right way). Show us how you would get us back on track with this one.

  5. I appreciate the Minister’s frankness and lack of interest in building castles in the air. Even as I hold out hope for good salvage on this one, I must admit that I was a little more hopeful before I read this. This Christmas and Carnival cocoa tea business is what got me, I think.

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