"A Sustainable process meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The St Vincent Cocoa Company is dedicated to creating an inclusive and sustainable long-term approach to the cocoa supply chain in St Vincent by:
1) Only growing the best quality, high yielding, fine flavoured cocoa varieties.
2) Grown in an agroforestal system using good agricultural practices and developed on sustainable agricultural principles.
3) Ensuring it is 100% traceable.
4) Ethically sourced.
5) Providing plants, advice, support, training to farmers free of charge.
6) Providing financial security to farmers via guaranteed off-take contracts for their cocoa as well as financial aid for pruning and fertilising with interest free loans. We also encourage intercropping during the first few years until the cocoa becomes viable on its own.
8) Rigorous waste management and 100% recycling when possible.
The Cocoa Agroforestry Model
It takes up to 5-7 years for the Cocoa to become fully productive therefore farmers need other income sources from their land to support their families, so intercropping with short cycle crops such as banana, plantain, ginger, maize, local root crops (such as dasheen and edo) is promoted.
Moreover cocoa needs shade cover, so timber species such as Coconut, Melina and Mahogany are also grown. These complementary crops provide farmers with a secure, long-term income, and diversify their business away from just growing one crop.
With the gradual reduction of natural forest throughout the world, this model is an essential part of keeping our forests diversified. Implementing an agroforestry model acts as a reservoir for the conservation of forest tree species.
Using existing coconut tree as shade cover for cocoa
Young Mahogany tree
The Company fully appreciates that protecting the landscape it occupies is an integral part of its remit for environmental, social and economic reasons.
In particular, because of the heavy rainfall and flash floods prevalent in St Vincent it is absolutely vital to guard against soil erosion and landslides. Each plant is grown as an individual tree and planted in its own individual square metre terrace so there is no risk of erosion.
Fortunately, cocoa trees help prevent soil erosion, as they provide long-term soil stability via their extensive root structure, futhermore continuous addition of organic matter via pruning operations and its large leaf litter helps this process.
Moreover, there are strict rules in St Vincent protecting areas designated as forestry and water catchment so cocoa is only being grown on agricultural land, generally old banana farms.
Terracing the cocoa
Waterfall going through our land at Bellwood
In order for the Company and the cocoa industry to thrive we are investing heavily in infrastructure.
We are processing an increasing amount of cocoa and in due course this will rise to hundreds of tonnes per year. In preparation for this we have built a facility at Perseverance which comprises a cascade fermentory, solar dryer and storage buildings. Wet cocoa is batch-fermented in our specially designed cascade fermentory then carefully dried in our customised solar dryer before being bagged up and stored ready to use in our chocolate factory or for export purposes.
At our Nursery at Dixon we produce 15,000 high quality plantlets per month and provide farmers with free plants that are adapted to thrive in St Vincent's environment.
In order to provide for an expanding workforce, the managerial side of the Company is expanding at a similar rate. We have recently constructed a Head Office in Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent & the Grenadines. This will be the centre of operations and its prominent location is designed to raise the profile of the Company within St Vincent.
A satellite office has been established in London in order to identify and secure overseas markets for our cocoa as and when we start exporting in 2017.
The Company is also keen to establish a visitor/tourist centre somewhere in St Vincent, both to raise awareness of cocoa production in the country and as a commercially viable operation in its own right. Several suitable sites have been identified and formal applications made to the Ministry of Agriculture and National Properties.
Inside the Solar Dryer
The Company works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture; The Hon. Saboto Caesar as Minister is particularly supportive of the initiative.
The Company and the Ministry of Agriculture have recently agreed to meet bi-monthly at senior level to ensure a good working relationship.
We have been asked to assist in the management of the first gene bank established by SVCC, which was handed back to the Government in 2014 as part of its takeover negotiation.
The Company has made several formal applications to lease Crown Lands from the government in order to expand its cocoa acreage, increase employment and include the Governement and the people of St Vincent & The Grenadines as stakeholders in the industry.
The Company recognises that by virtue of its long history of growing cocoa that there are a number of old trees still flourishing in St Vincent. These originated from Trinidad back in the 1960's/70's and their gene profiles are excellent.
We are very keen to retain this valuable source of genetic material not least because these surviving trees have proven themselves to be suitable to St Vincent's microclimate.
The Company has established its own Clonal Garden at Perseverance with cuttings taken from over 300 of the best of these mother trees. We have augmented these with a range of the most suitable ICS varieties from the International Cocoa Research Station at Reading University.
This Clonal Garden will not not only preserve the priceless cocoa heritage but will also enable us to identify the best and most suitable trees to plant in St Vincent. The most suitable trees are ones which produce maximum yield but do not sacrifice flavour.
Cuttings will be taken and grafted to seeded plantlets.
Andrew inspecting the Clonal Garden at Perseverance
Food safety and ethical issues are now an integral part of the cocoa industry. All cocoa planted by ourselves or supplied to farmers is mapped using GIS technology. This enables us to track all cocoa from the land, to the factory door and finally put into jute bags.
This system also allows us to register information such as planted varieties, any fertiliser and spray applications, yields etc. and thus provide invaluable feedback to our own management team and our farmers to improve management techniques.
Mr Jacob has been selling his beans to the Company since 2011. He owns 3 ½ acres with 1 ½ acres dedicated solely to cocoa. He has to feed and look after 6 members of his family.
He used to grow banana but since the outbreak of the Moko disease, which wiped out a lot of the islands crop, he has focused on cocoa.
When SVCC was established he recognised that cocoa would give him a better income than bananas and coupled with the promise of immediate payment, this gave him the confidence to plant cocoa.
He encourages other farmers to get back into growing cacao as he receives help from the Company in the form of fertiliser, spraying assistance and help with pruning. He mentioned that in the 80’s they were all growing cocoa but there wasn’t a guaranteed buyer, so your cocoa would just lie around and go to waste. Guaranteed payment for quality beans is drawing in many farmers wanting to earn a healthy income.
Mr Butler has 3 ½ acres of land that is dedicated solely to cocoa; within that space he has around 1500 trees.
When he obtained the land the cocoa trees that were present had been planted in the 1970's. The trees were at their final stages of production so in order to increase the yield, the trees needed to be cut back. So in 2011 the company assisted Mr Butler in a rehabilitation program to get his trees back to full productivity.
Mr Butler is confident that cocoa is a more profitable crop than banana with the banana price being very variable and needed far more attention and far more labour intensive. His cocoa however is kept diseased free by maintaining good agricultural practices.
Butler is an organic farmer and intercrops with ginger, tania and plantain. The diversification of his farm gives him a constant flow of income.