Breathing new life into Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa sector

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position::Communications Division, WIPO
SUMMARY

Making chocolate in the Caribbean – it sounds like a dream. But Trinidad and Tobago’s once-mighty cocoa industry faces many challenges. Annual production has plummeted from 30,000 tons of beans a century ago to just 500 tons in recent decades.

 
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Now, a new generation of cocoa entrepreneurs is emerging with ambitions to reclaim the twin-island state’s place at the top table of global confectionery. And intellectual property (IP) is a key part of their strategy.

A leading example is Ashley Parasram (below), founder and CEO of the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company (TTFCC). His ambitions go far beyond running a successful commercial enterprise: his eyes are firmly set on developing a national cocoa ecosystem built around quality production standards that is both profitable and sustainable. A Trinidadian by birth, with a background in sustainable development, Mr. Parasram has the drive and experience to help breathe new life into the country’s cocoa sector.

“I started looking into the cocoa sector in Trinidad and Tobago and got really hooked by it. I was intrigued by this fantastic raw material which the Mayans originally mixed with pepper for a spicy, bitter drink. It has so many different flavor profiles and can be used in so many different ways. How could it be that this wonderful raw material was just dropping from the trees because nobody was picking it? I felt sure that there must be some way of incentivizing people to do something with it? Everything really stems from that challenge,” he says.

Unique genetic diversity

Trinidad and Tobago produces some of the world’s highest-grade cocoa beans. “Trinitario is one of the most flavorsome cocoa you can get,” Mr. Parasram explains. Bred for disease and pest resilience in the 17th century, Trinitario is a combination of Criollo and Forastero varieties. These three varieties are used to produce chocolate. Criollo and Trinitario varieties are generally considered high-grade, “fine” or “flavor” beans, and Forastero is considered a lower-grade “ordinary” or “bulk” bean for mass production. The genetic diversity of Trinitario in Trinidad and Tobago is second to none. “We have over 100 strains of Trinitario in Trinidad and Tobago. The plant’s genetic diversity on the islands is unique,” he observes.

Three years of careful research brought into sharp focus the many issues facing the country’s cocoa sector, not least a complex and highly competitive global market. But Mr. Parasram was undaunted. “There were no convincing reasons why the sector could not work. There were solutions to all the problems that surfaced,” he says. His research did, however, identify the one thing missing from the country’s 450-year history as a cocoa producer: a processing facility.

Trinidad and Tobago’s first cocoa processing facility

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