Cocoa had been grown extensively in St Vincent up until the early 20th Century until the banana industry rose to pre-eminence in the 1970s and became the backbone of the agricultural economy. But with the dropping of tariff protections for bananas exported from the Caribbean into the EU, the banana industry has been in steady decline ever since.
Alongside rising world demand, this was seen as a good opportunity to create a cocoa industry in St Vincent which has perfect growing conditions for cocoa and the attraction of being a single-source location.
The St Vincent Cocoa Company (SVCC) was formed in 2011 by Armajaro, a European cocoa trading company, with the aim of establishing a cocoa industry in St Vincent.
But in 2014, the Company ran into financial difficulty and was bought by Ecom Agrotrade Ltd, an international commodity conglomerate, which decided that the St Vincent cocoa project did not fit in with its plans because not enough land was being planted to cocoa by farmers.
Fortunately for SVCC and the country, Harry Marriott & Andrew Hadley (both Vincentians - the former naturalised and the latter by birth) who had been involved since the start of the project - the former by introducing Armajaro to St Vincent via Sir James Mitchell (ex Prime Minister of the country) in 2010 and the latter in managing the Company since its inception - had faith in the potential of the business. Moreover they did not want to let down its farmers, the country or its Government.
They bought the Company and its entire business is September 2014.
We are under no illusion as to the task we face; effectively creating an industry entirely from our own resources. In order to improve the chances of success, it became immediately apparent that we need to change the business plan in order to achieve the economies of scale required to make the business viable and sustainable.
We cannot rely on relatively small, poor farmers to plant enough land to cocoa and achieve necessary scale to cover overheads and expand the business. So whilst continuing to encourage and support local farmers we are committing a large amount of our resources into buying and leasing land to cocoa.
The Company is leasing and buying land to add to the 100 acres under contract from local farmers. This is spread right around the island and is mostly made up of relatively small plots of 5 acres or so.
With chocolate consumption on the rise and cocoa supplies from traditional sources failing to keep pace with this growing demand, cocoa buyers are finding it increasingly challenging to find a reliable supply of fine flavoured cocoa. Buyers are looking for producers that can guarantee quality, demonstrate traceability, provide consistent supply and are using sound environmental and social practices on the ground. SVCC is committed to doing all of this.
St Vincent is clearly an ideal location to grow cocoa and with increasing world demand for this product, the Company’s timing appears to be perfect. However creating an entire industry from scratch comes with significant risk and will undoubtedly require significant time and investment.