By Oscar Maroto, the Rainforest Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture manager for Latin America who represented the Rainforest Alliance at the World Cocoa Conference in Bávaro, Dominican Republic.
The Rainforest Alliance, along with the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Programme, has teamed up on an origin project in Trinidad and Tobago called Greening the Cocoa Industry.
In April 2016, the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited (MCFCSL) became the first group of cocoa farms in Trinidad and Tobago to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, making it the first farming operation in the English-speaking Caribbean to obtain the rights to use the Rainforest Alliance’s green frog seal on its cocoa.
Since the 1800s, cocoa production has helped shape Trinidad and Tobago's natural, cultural, and economic landscape—and the more recent addition of Rainforest Alliance certification to this region’s unique cocoa blends has become a significant development in the nation’s efforts to meet its previously high levels of cocoa production.
During the colonial era, demand for cocoa was high—however, in subsequent years, the region experienced a decline in cocoa production, due to a combination of buyers not sourcing cocoa from these islands and oil becoming the main export commodity. However, cocoa from Trinidad and Tobago is renowned for its distinctive flavor profile, which renders it among the world’s most elite. The country’s moist, warm climate allows cacao plants to thrive, and has led to international award recognition at events such as the prestigious annual Salon du Chocolat in France. In recent years, businesses looking for small-scale, yet extremely high-quality production have started to source cocoa from the islands.
Christopher Paul, President of the MCFCSL, heads up a collective agricultural effort in the central hills of Trinidad. Mr. Paul is a local chemical engineer who studied in the UK, and then gained marketing experience in the sugar business before returning to the Montserrat Hills to manage his parents’ cocoa farm. His return home and firm commitment to the islands’ cocoa might very well personify the dedication that many other locals feel for this island. Of the cocoa’s quality, Mr. Paul affirmed, "The unique, fine flavor cocoa characteristics are determined by genetics and environment, both of which remain strongly intact."
The main challenges faced by the MCFCSL coop stems from older plants’ decreased productivity, plantations’ historically poor management, and the younger generations’ reluctance to become farmers. The farming groups’ short-term plans to counter some of these issues include continually providing technical assistance for plantation renovation and replicating the model to other groups in the country, among other technical innovations.
The MCFCSL has keenly fostered strong working relations with stakeholders, such as the nation’s Cooperative Secretariat, which provided initial technical assistance in the certification process. The University of the West Indies’ Cocoa Research Centre is also involved in a cocoa tree stock renovation program, as well as conducting a detailed flavor profiling of cocoa from the Montserrat region. The MCFCSL has a centralized drying and fermenting facility for cocoa processing, and also recently entered a commercial partnership with renowned Swiss chocolatiers Laderach Confisseur.
The Montserrat Cooperative’s efforts to improve livelihoods and to create opportunities for new generations entering the cocoa sector are welcome signs for further positive changes that are hopefully to come in Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa sector.