KINGSTOWN, ST VINCENT: (CARIBUPDATE/Sept 27, 2016) - St Vincent and the Grenadines has entered the era of chocolate production with the launch of its first ever product - Vincentian Chocolate.
And Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar tells CARIBUPDATE NEWS that it is the beginning of many things to come as the government here looks to encourage the diversification of the agriculture and agro-industrial sectors.
After depending for years also exclusively on bananas , and more recently root crops for its agriculture production, St Vincent and the Grenadine in recent years has made “a concerted effort” to diversify the sector.
And Caesar said the opening of the chocolate manufacturing enterprise last week is the first sign that the effort has begun to bear fruit.
“Some persons were pessimistic at the start, stating that St Vincent and the Grenadines will only be a nation to export beans. But I am happy that time is longer that twine and we have seen a coca value chain developing,” Caesar said.
St Vincent already has about a thousand acres under cocoa production, with plans for further expansion.
“We see cocoa, nutmegs and others spices as crops which are very hardy; of course there is a long gestation period before you reap. But the hardy nature of this crops put them in a special category that will make our agriculture sector more climate change resilient,” Caesar said.
“I have all trust and confidence that the investors (in the chocolate factory) are going to expand their production. There are talks that they are looking to put 2,000 more acres under production. So with 3,000 acres, with a thousand acres already in, St Vincent and the Grenadines can be poised to become one of the largest cocoa producing nations in CARICOM for fine flavored cocoa,” he declared confidently.
“They are expanding and the government is working along with them. And I am also are aware that already that other persons are looking towards the production of chocolate bars in the country,” he said an exclusive interview with CARIBUPDATE News.
Caesar said the whole diversification process now underway here is also a triumph for regionalism.
He said his country’s pivot to cocoa and other spices has been aided largely by neighboring island Grenada – the self-styled spice island – and the world’s second largest exporter of nutmegs and a significant player in the flavored-cocoa market.
“A seed was sown by the late (Grenada Agriculture) Minister (Denis) Lett and it really blossomed under (recent Agriculture) Minister Roland Bhola and up to today that relationship continues,” Caesar said.
He said St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada have a bilateral agreement, under which his country also provides St George’s with banana planting material, root crops and “a thriving exchange of cattle.”
“It is not a joy for me only; it is a joy for the entire OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States). I share the gains that we have achieved and the stake that we are now obtaining on the international market as a chocolate bar producing nation… with the government and people of Grenada,” Caesar said. “It was through practically the workings of the Treaty of Basseterre that really brought us together as a sub region, that we were able to create a cooperative network and an OECS platform.”
He said more technical help from Grenada is on its way.
“I am in discussion with the technicians in the Ministry of Agriculture in Grenada because whilst we are setting up a thriving industry, there are certain tech-pacts for cocoa production that we still do not have… and the exchange in technology is always going to be important if we are to ensure that disease control (and) production management are done correctly,” Caesar said.
Vincentian chocolate is now available in every supermarket on the island, with plans to begin exporting to the sub region in the New Year.
Expanding further to an international market is however felt to be some way off, until cocoa production levels increase.
Currently there are reported to be about 100 cocoa farmers here, with hopes to get more people involved.
“Many farmers went into cocoa production in the year 2011-2012, and so some now reaping the benefits, and others are now encouraged since they are seeing the fruits of their labor, not only being turned from pod to beans but to a chocolate bar,” Caesar said.