Chocolate’s climate challenges and Trinidad and Tobago’s Cocoa

Eleanor Sa-Carneiro

In a recent interview, Eleanor Sá-Carneiro spoke with Ashley Parasram, the head of the Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, to delve into the importance of adding value to the country’s cocoa production and in so doing enhancing food security and diversifying its economy back to traditional agricultural products.

Established in 2013 as a public-private partnership with the government, The Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, aims to breathe new life into a once-thriving cocoa sector. Parasram highlighted the historical significance of cocoa in the region, emphasizing that Trinidad and Tobago produced 30,000 tonnes a century ago. However, the current output stands at a mere 400 tonnes, a decline attributed to the dominance of the oil and gas industry in the country.

Parasram outlined the company’s mission to stimulate and reinvigorate the cocoa sector, aligning with the government’s diversification plan to reduce reliance on the oil and gas economy. Acknowledging the challenge, he stated, “Our job is to stimulate and reinvigorate that sector and diversify the economy as a result, back to traditional roots.”

Discussing the global cocoa landscape, and the dominance of supply by Ghana and Ivory Coast, responsible for 70% of the world’s cocoa production, Parasram emphasized the need to move away from sending raw materials and, instead, focus on in-country value-added processing.

Parasram highlighted an interesting development in Ghana, where conditions have been imposed on the export of beans to Switzerland, aiming to encourage in-country value-added processing. He stressed the opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago in the fine flavour cocoa market, where nearly 80% of the countries deemed fine flavour by the International Cocoa Organisation are from the Caribbean and Central America.

The surge in chocolate prices, according to Parasram, is driven by increasing demand, climate change challenges, and sustainability concerns. He highlighted the quarter-on-quarter increase in bean prices, particularly for fine flavor cocoa, which could command almost $6,000 to $7,000 per ton, a fourfold difference from bulk cocoa.

Parasram attributed the surge in cocoa prices in Europe to a combination of factors, including climate conditions and heavy rainfall in the Caribbean affecting cocoa harvests regionally and globally. Referencing a 20% drop in Colombia’s cocoa production due to excessive rainfall, affecting Trinidad’s production as well, Parasram hints at economies of scale and diversifying more than merely production to protect the region’s food security ambitions.

As Ashley Parasram speaks of climate challenges faced by Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa sector he highlights the immense potential for growth and value addition in the fine flavour cocoa market. The government’s diversification plan and strategic initiatives by the T&T Fine Cocoa Company position the country to reclaim its historical prominence in the cocoa industry.

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