KINGSTOWN: The St. Vincent Cocoa Company, which recently announced that it is ending its operations in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in August, will compensate farmers in lieu of the two years notice stipulated in the agreement with the government.
“By virtue of the fact that notice is not given, they are writing off all the money that (farmers) borrowed, against the need to give notice,” said Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar.
Ten farmers had received loans totaling EC$34,800 from the company’s micro finance program, and this amount will be written off. Famers who did not receive loans from the SVCC will each receive EC$1,000 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents).
“But coming out of the discussion, it was decided that farmers who have over 3,000 plants will get between $1,500 and $2,000,” said Caesar, adding that not many famers had more than 3,000 plants.
The St. Vincent Cocoa Company came into existence after Armajaro Trading Ltd. signed a 50-year agreement with the government in August 2011, granting the firm exclusivity in the overseas marketing of wet and dry cocoa beans produced in St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Fifty-four farmers went into cocoa cultivation with the company after the 2011 agreement was signed, while a further 10 to 20 entered the sector, outside of the Armajaro agreement.
The company has invested more than $5 million in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, but Caesar said it decided to cease operations at the end of August because it no longer sees local production as viable.
The company had a target of cultivating 5,000 acres of cocoa, where only 18,000 acres of agricultural land remains.
“That was a big number and over the last four years, they were only able to rehabilitate 50 acres and to plant 200 new acres,” said Caesar.
The minister said farmers were disappointed by the development.
“Quite naturally, if you are in a relationship and the relationship did not work out quite as you had planned it, there were some sad feeling, persons felt a bit sad, but I must state, no one was angry,” said Caesar. “Persons expressed sadness that they no longer had an opportunity to work with what they considered, in their estimation, an internationally renowned cocoa distributor. They thanked the company for coming to St. Vincent and working with them.”