Amid plans to sell off local cocoa assets to a private investor, the Jamaican Government continues to market the beans locally and overseas amid challenges to the crop.
Jamaica has been granted a half-year reprieve for delivery of a large order of cocoa to a buyer in the United Kingdom while the sector continues efforts to recover from the frosty pod diseases.
Overseer of the commercial assets of the Cocoa Industry Board, Byron Henry, said the unnamed buyer had visited the fields and saw first-hand the efforts being made to contain the disease.
The 125,000 tonnes of beans that should have been shipped in September will now be delivered by next March.
Henry, the general manager of the Export Division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, who has been tasked to market cocoa until the commercial assets of the Cocoa Board have been divested, said this week that half of the UK contract has been supplied, alongside local contracts for beans.
“We have supplied cocoa to small local buyers who would otherwise have had to import,” he said.
Henry is currently making use of the Cocoa Board’s fermentaries at Richmond in St Mary and at Morgan’s Valley in Clarendon to process the beans for sale.
Those properties are among four assets to be divested – the others being another fermentary at Haughton Court in Lucea, Hanover, and a cocoa farm located in Richmond, St Mary.
Divestment agent, the Development Bank of Jamaica, began advertising the properties again this week. Bids are due by December 14. Its previous effort to dispose of the assets, in which a preliminary deal was struck with investor Michael Lee-Chin, eventually faltered last year, after three years of negotiation with his company Wallenford Limited, which was selected as the preferred bidder.
Henry said he knew of several Jamaicans who were interested in acquiring the assets, but could not disclose their names.
The rest of the Cocoa Board as well as the Coffee Industry Board and the agriculture ministry’s export unit that traded spices and other agricultural products, have been merged into a new regulatory body, the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority. The Coconut Industry Board is also being folded into that body, a process which is ongoing.