With concerns looming over food security in light of global COVID-19 restrictions, cocoa farmers are again calling on the Government to put measures in place to revitalise the cocoa industry.
Speaking with Guardian Media at the Lions Civic Centre in Siparia, Oscar Cadet, president of the Siparia Erin Cocoa Allied Farmers Association, said the cocoa industry could once again become a mainstay of the economy.
Reminding the population that T&T’s cocoa is one of the best in the world, he said, “As of 2015, we use to export at least about $15 million dollars worth of cocoa and cocoa products, now just a few private chocolate makers doing anything.”
Noting that the demise of the cocoa industry began several years ago as the oil sector gained more prominence, he said people lost interest in the cocoa industry and it became uneconomical.
But, he said the final nail in the sector’s coffin occurred in 2016 when the Cocoa Industry Board was shut down and the Government seized its assets.
“We had over $40 million in assets there, we don’t know where it gone,” he said.
He, however, said the farmers believe that money belongs to them “because they were buying the cocoa underprice, selling it underprice, and then whatever funds they get they putting it in the coffers.”
Cadet complained that in 2010, when a fire destroyed 200 acres of bearing cocoa trees, farmer received no compensation or assistance from the Government.
As it stands now, he said, the cocoa sector is in a mess, thousands of acres of cocoa trees are idle and unemployment is high.
Calling on the Government to hold a meeting with all stakeholders in the cocoa industry, he said, “The Government needs to establish a proper revitalisation programme for the cocoa industry. This will call for subsidies and proper working conditions because for far too long the agriculture and cocoa industry people are living by bits and pieces. We want a proper structure put in place so that farmers and workers engaged in this industry, it could be profitable to all.”
He complained that numerous meetings across the board with several governments over the years have borne no fruit.
“The Government needs to do something seriously at this point in time when we not sure what will happen next year with food security. They need to come to the cocoa sector and let us show them how to make money,” he said.
Calling for a national consultation on the revitalisation of the cocoa sector, he said, “We want them to look at Grenada and St Vincent and all the other islands that are doing extremely well. They putting the subsidy in the wrong place. Come talk to us and we will show them how to make money.”
Vice president Basdeo Ramsaroop said during World War Two the person who owned cocoa land had food on their table. “If history repeats itself now with this and we cant get foreign food (with COVID-19)…the man who had a piece of cocoa land will have food. It is so beneficial besides cocoa, it has the best breadfruit, zaboca, fig and it preserves the wildlife and the waterbed.”