By Jonathan Mohan
The cacao plant (Theobroma Cacao) & its seeds are the source from which the cacao (also spelt as cocoa in English) bean industry and chocolate products exist. During the 16th century the Criollo type cocoa was first planted in Trinidad which is native to Mexico. In 1727 a majority of plantations were destroyed by a hurricane or blight and a few decades later the Forastero type was brought from Venezuela and planted. Over time the Forastero interbred with the remaining Criollo and formed a hybrid that is known as Trinitario. Trinitario is a flavourful and spicy cocoa bean produced in rural areas of Trinidad that is coveted by chocolate manufacturers around the world. During the 19th and early 20th century the cocoa trade was booming in Trinidad and Tobago but a series of factors lead to its decline.
Data collected from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is plotted below and shows the decline in production from 7030 tonnes in 1961 to 400 tonnes in 2011. Prior to1961 local production was much higher but in the 1920’s world over-production resulted in lower prices, then followed an economic depression and thereafter the ‘witches broom’ disease affected production locally. The oil industry and increasing profitable sugar manufacturing began to grab labour force from the cocoa industry contributing to a domino effect of detrimental unintended consequences till this day.
Some of the challenges being faced by the local cocoa farmers are the high cost involved in acquiring new land and rehabilitating existing estate lands. This is due to increasing inflation in the country and an expanding land buying bubble. Acquiring arable land has become difficult as some arable land is needlessly utilised by the government’s housing construction program. Cocoa producers are aging as the average age of a farmer locally is 60 years and climbing. Not only the farmers but the trees are aging also and replanting is required. Estate owners are facing a labour shortage as there is a lack of youths enthusiastic about the cocoa industry & willing to work in agriculture.
At present the government needs to put more focus on modifying and modernising the Cocoa Act of 1962. Farmers’ voices are not heard by the public due to lack of media coverage on issues that they face. Media attention is one avenue known to bend the political will of the government and should be used to get farmers predicaments across to all. Locally the Cocoa & Coffee Industry Board (CCIB) operates only as a marketing arm for cocoa, a crop they’re not directly involved in. Legal framework must be enhanced to get the CCIB to dive deeply into increasing production efficiency and using their public relations department to get entire communities on-board.
Existing tax-payer funded unemployment programs should be implemented in a manner to add labour force to the cocoa industry. Training and workshops can be done to educate farmers on surpassing international standards for export of cocoa and means of maintaining a stable supply because only a reliable supply can preserve a market. Adhering to regulations and certification requirements is the only way to ensure high quality cocoa is being exported. In the long term, a domestic standard can be introduced which would boost consumer confidence and enhance export readiness of producers. Action into Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa market is needed immediately before it’s lost in the pages of history.
By Jonathan Mohan
Launched in 2003, the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) is a Trinidad and Tobago government sponsored programme, overseen by the Ministry of Food Production for youth ages 17-25 years. Its objective to expose and educate youths in the agricultural industry is done by teaching and placing interns in agricultural enterprises both private and public. The programme consists of two phases and is aimed to develop and increase farming skills of youths and foster appreciation for the agricultural industry.
Youths who complete training are prepared to enter the agricultural sector in areas of vegetable production, root crop production, livestock rearing, herbs and spices, and food processing. The programme is tied to general policy for food security, youth employment and rural development. The total graduates since the launch of the programme are over 250 youths with over 7000 youths participating at some point in time. At the last graduation in October 2013, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Food Production noted that the average age of a farmer in Trinidad and Tobago is over 60 years and there is a shortage of persons to work in the food industry.
The lack of motivation between youth to pursue agriculture careers has much to do with the cultural stigma associated with farming. Farmers in Trinidad and Tobago are regarded from the misguided perspective that they are low financial earners and part of the lower manual labour class. When the mention of the word ‘farmer’ is said amongst the youths in Trinidad’s society, the picture that comes to mind is an old man with a straw hat covered in mud who is unaware of technology. The challenge here is to educate the general public on the importance and profitable career of a farmer. A farmer’s job is not a low class job and the stigma of not working in an air conditioned office wearing a three piece suit should never be a comparison for having such an ideology.
It is this ideology that has discouraged youth from participating in agriculture and from pursuing careers in the sector over the past few decades. Another contributing factor that may have been a hindrance to greater achievements of YAPA is the governments’ over extensive focus on the oil and gas sector which is publicised by the local media having the negative effect of changing public opinion away from farming. More focus and resources must be invested into programmes such as YAPA to save this country from its fading agricultural sector. There are youths who are passionate about agriculture and simply need the guidance and initial preparation to enter the industry. This is where programmes such as YAPA make the difference.
Innovation 4Agriculture, a youth group in the field plans the landscape for their upcoming farming project – Trinidad and Tobago
Photo Courtesy: technology4agri
By Jonathan Mohan
I visited a 28 year old farmer planting hot peppers in a rural area south of Trinidad. His fertilizer program included the use of poultry manure (sawdust, wood shavings, and poultry fecal matter) and NPK granules application. Manures contain the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) that make up fertilizer.
Chemical water based fertilizers, releases ammonium (NH4+) ions and nitrates quickly into the soil and a problem being faced with this is that nutrients leach out of the soil. This does not maintain the long term health of the soil. Manure will slowly to release nitrogen, which contributes to healthy plant growth, phosphorus which helps to develop healthy roots and potassium contributing to the formation of chlorophyll.
The nitrogen content in the manure comes from uric acid, ammonium salts, and organic (fecal) matter. Uric acid, readily changes to ammonia (NH3), a gaseous form of nitrogen that can evaporate. To decrease this loss of nitrogen the farmer rotovated the manure after spreading into the soil during ground preparation. This will convert the ammonia to ammonium, which will attach itself to clay particles and organic matter. Poultry manure in particular is ‘hot’ which means putting it directly on the plant can burn the leaves and kill the plant. This is the reason why the farmer firstly spread the manure dispersing it across a large area of land so as to prevent any accumulation in one area. When the hot pepper plants were transplanted the plants did not ‘burn’ away.
An economic analysis done by the farmer showed that the use of manure will decrease the costs incurred from buying large amounts of overpriced fertilizer while yet maintaining the maximum yields. In this particular case a poultry farm existed in the area of the hot pepper farmer so transportation and application costs were low for the manure. This is just one of the examples showing how rural farmers are using natural means of reducing farming costs.
See pictures attached of hot peppers being planted at this rural farm.