The Cocoa history in the Caribbean region
The Caribbean region covers the islands and continental American regions that surround the Caribbean Sea. This poor but touristic region has long been home to huge cocoa plantations and large growers because of its hot and humid climate. The cocoas obtained there were also rare and very appreciated. They are still so today, however, most of the plantations have been abandoned.
Cocoa, “food of the gods”
It is in the Mesoamerican region, and more particularly on the Pacific coast and the Gulf Coast of Mexico, that cocoa cultivation is the oldest documented. Dating from the 2nd millennium BC, this culture has spread extensively. Traditionally used by the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec populations during ceremonies and rituals in the form of beverages, or to fight various infections, cocoa also served as currency (beans). What is called “the food of the gods” was a major social, economic and religious element until the Spanish conquest in the 15th century.
The Spaniards meet for the first time the cocoa in the Caribbean in 1495. They pay attention to the bean only later, after transforming the warm and bitter drink of the natives to suit their tastes, including adding sugar and cinnamon. After the conquest of Mexico, the cocoa is exported to Europe and the culture is intensified.
West Africa, new leader
From the first decade of the twentieth century, cocoa production is multiplied by 20 in the regions of Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. Cocoa Criollo, a variety grown mainly in Peru and Ecuador and in the Caribbean region, is hard to grow in Africa. Forestero is grown here, a stronger, more productive and more resistant variety, but not of a better quality.
The Caribbean region today
Nowadays, we find the most important part of plantations on the southern Caribbean coast. Cocoa is still grown in this region, but several factors such as natural phenomena (cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions), lack of technology and organization, and the emergence of other, more profitable crops ( banana or sugar cane in Guadeloupe) resulted in the abandonment of most plantations.
In Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, for example, cocoa farming is on the rise again. The cocoa sector has not yet reached maturity and offers development opportunities.
Haiti today has about 16,000 hectares of cocoa plantations for a potential annual production of 5,000 to 7,500 tons. The major regions concerned are Grande Anse and the North. Cocoa is Haiti’s third-largest primary export product, at around $ 8 million a year, compared with $ 3.9 million in coffee for the same year (BRH, 2015). 30 000 rural families live today from cocoa farming.
The Haitian territory is very favorable to cocoa development and the intensification of production, whether for new plantations or for the rehabilitation of existing older plots. However, despite numerous interventions in technical and financial support, production tends to stagnate around 5000 tons.
In Haiti, in 2009, only 5% of cocoa production was fermented. But the difference in price paid to farmers for fermented cocoa compared to unfermented cocoa is more and more incentive. For example, a major program has been put in place, led by a fair trade brand, aimed at training cocoa farmers in northern Haiti to grow and process a fermented quality cocoa.
In the south, under the aegis of the ODEFCAGA (the producer organization for the development of the Cocoa sector in Grande Anse), the revival of cocoa has become a reality since 2012, with on one hand the establishment of nurseries in several communes of the department to facilitate the regeneration of local plots considered often old and unproductive, and on the other hand the construction of treatment centers for the fermentation and drying of cocoa beans.
Although the quality of fermented cocoa production is still considered insufficient, many efforts and actions have been carried out on the “terroir” of the municipality of Abricots (where our partner’s headquarters are located) and significant progress is being made, including obtaining the organic certification issued by Ecocert to many producers.
Before abandoning its cultivation of cocoa, Guadeloupe produced, between 1900 and 1927, from 1200 to 2000 tons of cocoa per year. Following the devastating cyclone of 1928, cocoa plantations gave way to other more lucrative crops. Today the volume production remains low with a variation of 3 to 5 tons per year, destined to a local transformation essentially agri-tourism.
Eco-tourism associating the production with the visit of sites of former dwellings increases the added value of the products like the cocoa, but also, the coffee and demonstrate the superiority of certain modes of productions respectful of people and nature .
The challenge remains the possibility of sourcing cocoa from the Guadeloupe terroir, because currently most local chocolatiers, who want a high quality range of chocolates, get their supplies from European wholesalers because locally processed chocolate in a traditional way would not allow the results they get today with the cover chocolate they import.
Meeting this challenge requires mastery of all links in the production chain. One of the proven obstacles for local experts is the particularly high production costs of producing high-quality cocoa.
One of the trail to follow would be the continuation of experiments based on experiments already conducted locally for the research and selection of one or more Guadeloupean varieties, in order to avoid mixtures of varieties that could diminish the potential quality of a variety high-end cocoa.
Also, the current production go along with a program of renewal and planting of the best local varieties could be sufficient to the local demand in fine and aromatic cocoa. Projects, in cooperation with other Caribbean islands including Haiti, could also complement these local productions.
These projects could be part of an approach to promote integration into the world of work around learning management jobs and the maintenance of production plots in particular.