Chocolate as a crop was introduced to the Caribbean by the Spanish who took it from Venezuela to Trinidad around 1525 and then shortly afterwards to Jamaica from Caracas and Guatemala. But one of the funniest things I’ve read in the Grivetti and Shapiro book about the history of chocolate is that the British forces burned a boat load of cocoa beans because they thought it was sheep droppings! Classic.
Anyway, on to Jamaica. After the British captured the Island in 1655 cocoa production was in a very bad state due to drought and disease. However, by the 1690′s the situation had improved with the continued dedication of the plantation owners to keep replacing lost crop with new trees.
Overtime sugar plantation owners settled from Barbados and brought some of their expertise with them but they couldn’t counter the effects of a shortage of labour and an earthquake in the Port Royal area. Also there were problems with French in 1688 that didn’t help the situation.
Jamaica wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a leading cocoa producer with just 45 acres of cocoa being in existence in 1876 and just 26 in 1881. But this is where the fortunes of the local cocoa plantation owners would change. In 1892 the total acreage of cocoa had risen to 1882 and to a significantly higher 3548 in 1892.
Currently about 90% of cocoa beans produced in Jamaica is exported to Europe with the other 10% being exported to the USA and Japan – but production is still relatively low at around 650 tones. To try and increase this there have been a number of international programmes implemented including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Cocoa Foundation. As well as an internal restructuring of the industry to try and reach a target of 1,400 tons.
An interesting insight is that about 90% of cocoa farmers cultivate less than 10 acres of the crop with most growing on land they or their family own. With the income from cocoa surviving just to supplement other farming income.
Knowledge of cocoa production with these farmers is below the levels that the Cocoa Industry Board recommends for best practices. This results in very poor yields with about 5 boxes per acre per year of wet cocoa which can be compared to a possible 47 boxes per year on a well-managed plantation.
Also current plantations have a fairly low density of cacao trees at around 200-300 trees per acre as compared to the 400 recommended by the CIB. Furthermore, these trees are often old and need to be rehabilitated. In fact the vast majority of trees are over 19 years old and many over 41.
An interesting insight from the Cocoa Tech Forum in Jamaica is that cocoa production isn’t profitable for farmers but uses the family labour available. But most make losses when they have plantations of less than 5 acres.
Obviously we’re all used to Old Jamaica chocolate. But if we’re looking at dark chocolate there’s not a great deal of choice. Here’s what I’ve found:
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