A RELIABLE and consistent source of labour, one of the biggest challenges to the development of TT's cocoa industry, should no longer be a factor, given the influx of Venezuelan immigrants, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said yesterday.
Rambharat gave the feature address at an annual one-day symposium hosted by the UWI Cocoa Research Centre (CRC) at the St Augustine campus, during which he called on farm owners to take advantage of the new stream of labour available.
"The big cocoa farmers, the people with over 500 acres, have said to me over and over, (we may have) the best cocoa, the best beans, the best conditions, but if you don't have the labour to remove the pod from the trees, then you're wasting your time," said Rambharat.
He said Venezuelan men had made themselves visible for work, for instance, at the entrance of the farms on Orange Grove Road.
"Some of the Venezuelans are particularly suited to agriculture and projects involving fisheries because of where they come from. And the farmers have said to me that the Venezuelans are trainable, they follow instructions, they're willing to work."
He said he was fully supportive of relaxing the requirements to grant work permits to Venezuelans.
"I support the availability of labour to farmers because second to land, labour is the most important requirement."
Rambharat added that insufficient land tenure would only serve to discourage farmers from achieving long-term goals.
"Most importantly, whatever you do in agriculture, it is rooted in tenure. When our farmers get a letter from me, the last line reads: 'Let's make our good farmers better farmers.' We could do that by simply granting them the land tenure that they deserve, that they require and that will motivate them."
Yesterday's symposium comprised officials from the Ministries of Trade and Agriculture, as well as stakeholders in the local cocoa farming, production and trade sectors, diplomats, potential investors, a number of visiting scientists and representatives of major chocolate companies from around the world. The theme was deconstructing elements of terroir to support branding and niche marketing of cocoa.
"Terroir" typically refers to the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as soil, topography and climate.
Discussions largely surrounded policies and procedures developed by the TT Bureau of Standards, in collaboration with the CRC, in order to obtain the highest quality of fermented and dried cocoa; improving farm level productivity; and risk and constraint management.
In addition to unveiling the newly established standards, the symposium also released a comprehensive certification system and digital traceability system, allowing farmers to brand, certify and trace their beans from farmer to manufacturer; a fertility map and a cadmium (a toxic metal) map for TT; and the establishment of the International Fine Cocoa Innovation Centre, which is designed to support building a value-added sector surrounding cocoa.