09 March, 2011

Cocoa: Sao Tome and Principe's way forward

As Sao Tome and Principe's oil benefit hopes, have diminished of late, the Island nation is having great success with one of its other main and most loved products: cocoa. Since the late 1980s, the Island has been trying hard in improving its cocoa production and reaping benefits from it; due to falling cocoa prices, many cocoa farmers had abandoned their plantations in the 80s or had decided to farm other crops instead. As prices, internationally, plummeted in 1998 - many more gave up on growing it.

Early this Century, a French organic chocolate producer did an assessment on the Island's cocoa sector; they concluded that: the rich genetic origin of Sao Tome cocoa varieties could produce superior aromatic cocoa beans that would fetch higher and more stable prices than ordinary cocoa. The study also found that traditional farming methods could be adapted easily to organic production. By combining organic production and fair trade principles, cocoa farmers could greatly boost their income.

Now, thanks to high-quality, organic, fair-trade cocoa - the raw ingredient for chocolate - farmers on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of West Africa, are again enjoying the sweet taste of success. Once in the doldrums, production of the country's cocoa crop has risen sharply, registering a 10-fold increase since 2004. Many of the small farmers, who were previously living on the edge of poverty, have seen a boost to their incomes. Without oil Sao Tome and Principe can very much improve the lives of its very small population; it doesn't need crude oil to advance forward. As with its success with its cocoa farming, the Island nation can and should manage and develop its other sectors and resources.

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