Cocoa farmers in central Trinidad are expecting to export more of the valuable beans this year.
The good news came from the Montserrat Hills Cocoa Farmers Cooperative Society Limited at a news conference held by the society in Gran Couva on Monday.
It took place on the compound of it’s chocolate making facilities where the organisation also announced their upcoming Cocoa Festival carded for this weekend.
Vice president of the cooperative Ronald Bhaggan said the 42 farmers in the association are hoping to export between 40 to 60 tonnes this year when the season starts in October when compared to last year’s export of 24 to 36 tonnes of the fine flavoured beans which can earn as much as $28,000 a tone.
Bhaggan said this is part of the cooperative’s five-year plan to boost production by 10 per cent annually, rehabilitate old estates, raise prices, enhance the quality of the product and get more farmers involved in cocoa production.
He said the cooperative also planned to encourage downstream production where farmers can generate value added products.
He said some of these products such as chocolates, cosmetics and other food items infused with cocoa would be on display at the food festival on Sunday at the La Vega Estate.
Bhaggan said on the downside, the industry is losing value farming lands to housing.
He said while labour remains a problem the cooperative was able to hire some Venzeulan migrants as labourers.
However, he said the industry remains cautious of hiring foreigners because of the prevalence of the Frosty Pod disease which could devastate the industry.
He said the disease is transmitted by spores that can travel on the skin and clothing of foreigners.
He said should anyone from Venezuela bring the disease to T&T it would devastate the industry.
Bhaggan said there is a period of quarantine that these individuals must undergo before they are allowed on estates.
He said the industry is also suffering from a lack of access roads, water and the high cost of equipment.
About the festival, Bhaggan said it offers a boost for domestic tourism. He said last year’s event attracted over 2,000 visitors and this year the cooperative were expecting more to attend. He said since then there has been an increased number of persons who visit the estates.
Executive member Diane Chinpire said the food element of the festival promises to be exciting. She said an array of curry dishes, meats and beverages would be infused with cocoa to demonstrate how the beans can add its own unique flavor to cooking.
Reporter: Shastri Boodan