Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dominica, coffee and the Venezuelan president

By Thomson Fontaine

The recent pronouncement by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez that he would soon establish a coffee plant in Dominica have led to many raised eyebrows at home and abroad. The Venezuelan president may however have hit on the single commodity that could restore Dominica’s place as a leading agricultural nation, and, if properly pursued could translate to a much needed economic boon for the island.
hugo chavez
President Chavez recently promised to build a coffee plant in Dominica.

Today as in the distant past, coffee continues to be one of the most sought after commodities in the world, and for those countries that can position themselves to take hold of this market, then great economic opportunities await.

Dominica has a long and storied history of growing coffee. Historians believe that the Arabian coffee was introduced into Dominica in the second quarter of the eighteenth century by early French settlers.

With the introduction of coffee, Dominica suddenly became a country of great interest not only to the French but also the British. The country appeared ideally suited for coffee production because of its abundant rainfall and vast expanses of highlands. From 1743 to 1753 coffee production nearly tripled moving from 684 700 pounds to 1 585 400 pounds.

By the time the French reluctantly ceded Dominica to the British at the Treaty of Paris in 1763 on account of the 1759 British invasion, coffee production had reached 1 690 360 pounds.

Despite the British introduction of sugar, constant fighting, and abrupt population movements that affected agricultural production, coffee continued to thrive. At its peak, more than 3 000 000 pounds were exported annually and it was considered to be of such fine quality that it usually obtained the highest price in the British market. Indeed, when slavery was abolished in 1833, and despite declining output, coffee production still contributed more than half of the country’s export earnings.

Following its heyday, coffee production declined steadily and in 1874 only 10 877 pounds were exported as the Arabian coffee was almost completely ravaged by a blight. In 1874, the British introduced Liberian coffee into Dominica believing it to be more disease resistant.

These hopes were fully realized and the joy of that moment was captured by Dr. H. A. A. Nichols a leading Dominican agriculturist, and founder of the Botanic Gardens who wrote ,” hopes that the new plants would be impervious to the ravages of the blight were fully realized for the young plants soon shot up into vigorous large shrubs, and loaded with flowers, and ripe and unripe berries.”

Dr Nicholls went on to say that the productiveness of the Liberian trees is “one of astonishment to those of the older residents who remember the coffee estates of forty years ago. The Liberian coffee plant is much larger, it flowers for several months so that flowers and berries may be found on the same plant, and the berries are twice the size of the ordinary coffee bean.”

According to Dr Nicholls “the flavor of the coffee is excellent, quite as good as Java coffee.” The success of the coffee was quickly evident because within a few years it was being exported to neighboring islands and by 1896 export production had climbed to almost 30 000 pounds.

At the time, Dr. Nicholls noted that coffee was full of promise for the future of Dominica. “In the island there are large tracts of virgin soil, well watered with fine streams, eminently adapted for the cultivation of coffee.”

Unfortunately, coffee never regained its former eminence as an export crop even as sugar, vanilla, limes and then bananas dominated Dominica’s agriculture production. However, it continued to be grown for local consumption. I well remember my childhood in the late seventies having to pick coffee for sale in the local market. Even today, I still vividly remember the aroma of that freshly roasted coffee brewing in the early hours of the morning.

Hurricane David in 1979 dealt a severe blow to the coffee crop, and it has since not been actively cultivated. However, the same conditions that existed when Dr. Nicholls made his observations still exists today, and all over the countryside, the coffee plant is once again reemerging.

One hopes that the desire by the Venezuelan president to build the coffee plant will be enough incentive to our farmers to begin to grow coffee. More importantly, good coffee fetches a premium on the international market.

There is no doubt that if policy makers and the agriculture community in Dominica take up this initiative that within a very short space of time coffee production can regain its glory days, and play a leading role in helping to alleviate poverty in Dominica. And for this I would say, “thank you Mr. President.”

Now, could the planting begin?

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Great Article Doc. Thank you that superbly enlightenig background informtion. It would be intersting to know exactly when this project will be implemented.. 6 months? 2 years? Five years? Is there some inecntives for farmers to begin planting? How will they survive meanwhile? If we knew for sure I would get busy trying to organize a Coffee growers co-operative and start planting.
The coffee market is very feirce at the present and to enter the market in any substatial form requires enourmous investment in fact astronomical if it is to be profitable.

A full processing plant of modern techological design once complete can operate on a staff of very few. the employment is actually in the growing sector only. The modern selling methods in the various stock exchanges and market forums is hugely competetive, and the margins for real profit is not large.

However the concept is reasonable providing that Dominica can prodice in excess of one million or two million pounds per six months, at this level the marginal advantage though still small in comparrison to esatblished market may make a small profit.

To break into solid profit you need a minium of ten processing plants, and literaly many thousands and thousands of heactares of land fertilized selectively and very espacially and after carefull and expert methods of cultivation and aproval by the international quality board you may and I stress may be accepted as a credible producer.

to achieve this is not an overnight splash, I would estimate that a minimum investment of one hundred million dollars US may get you started, certainly not to profit, this would take many more millions and at least seven to ten years to establish, but a good plan long term.

However MR Chavez snd his generosity is good at the present let us hope that he can provide all of the plants and secure the hectares and special fertilizers ( i FEEL SURE THAT ANDRE DOPWELL CAN BE OF HELP IN THAT RESPECT ) and supply the infrastructure to laed Dominican coffee into a world beater.

But be assured this is costly and takes years to be of profit capabillity.the question I pose is who will get the profit Skerrit or Chavez?
Thomson, this is an excellent article. I will thus have the fantastic job of convincing our government that we have to protect our produces with strong intellectual property rights so that our farmers may essentially rip the economic benefits of their hard labour in the products.
Thanks Dr, Thompson for your insightful comments. However I note with care your conditional comment "...if policy makers and the agricultural community take up this initiative..." My concern is that Chavez's statement has drawn from you a view comparable to a "reader" reading the end of a novel, ignoring all intervening details of plot and theme, etc. and making an analysis of the book. Why is the initiative coming from Chavez? Was there consultation or discussion with the "policy makers and the agricultural community" BEFORE Chavez raised his initiative in public? That concerns me more because if there is no proper planning and thought no significant and productive response should be expected. Are farmers going to plant coffee now based on a statement from a man known to shoot his big mouth on all issues to his political benefit? Nice article from you Doc, but, let us study the entire picture before making pronouncements!
Whilst Mr Chavez's coffee processing initiative could be beneficial to Dominica, I would have thought cocoa would be a more appropriate choice of commodity to process. After all, there are already a lot of cocoa trees growing around Dominica's estates, many of which are neglected and underutilized. Whilst we already have the local Bellot company selling 'Cafe Dominique', a high quality ground coffee product, the only local cocoa product we see for sale here is the crudely fashioned roll of ground cocoa for sale in the markets. A top quality, locally made chocolate product would, to me, make more economic sense at this point in time.
Recently, with the many one sided and bias political articles written by this media, I had felt that the news quality and information driving force which once made this news medium one of the best from Dominica, had diminished. However, let me be open and say today that this article is a step in the right direction in building this media’s reputation back to the great standards it once had.

The article is a great one with well research material and written in such a way that it creates a positive atmosphere and that could help develop our wonderful island instead of creating unnecessary division and socio-political friction as was done in the recent past. Hats off to you on a job well done!!!
I guess the clowns like Zapper and Zeegee and ZeyZey, including N0-Finn Doctor, Shirely madmax, will not comment on this article because it is something positive about Dominica and some good needed investement.

So instead, the Doc Finn decided to talk about Melville Hall and how dangerous it is and to paint a negative picture. How nostalgia has set in when he turned his back on Dominica some l'anne cannelle ago.

But God willing we will get the International Airport, the coffe, the fruits, the tourist and yes DLP and Skerrit and Dominica.
Dominica has great elevation to produce tasty varieties of our Cafee Noire. The island has lots of space for expansion and coffee is only one such comodity.

We should all be hopeful that this comes to fruition, and not only coffee but Water bottling, cocoa/chocolate, hot springs industry offering volcanic mud massages and baths (5-star quality like in Costa Rica), and I can go on....all the way to plants packaging various marketable items such as insecticides and such (like in Barbados they can Baygon)...not that we have to but hope you get my drift:-)

I am amazed at the number of comments in opposition to or negatively addressing an offer by Chavez to build (only one)coffee processing plant in a country that has little or negligible industry to talk about. I hope it's not because many who are commenting here live 'overseas' and do not risk coming back to carry fig on their heads.

We simply need more industry in the mix of tourism, and whatever else available to gainfully employ our brothers and sisters.

However, I am non-political, UWP/DLP/DFP....whatever P.
Chavez Crackdown Goes From Airwaves to Coffee Beans
Monday, August 03, 2009

Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, who pulled the plug on 34 radio stations that broadcast opposition news, turned his attention Monday to the country's coffee plants.

Chavez seized control Monday of Venezuela's two largest coffee processing plants, claiming they were illegally smuggling coffee out of the country to sell at a higher price. The Venezuelen leader threatened to expropriate the businesses if a government-run investigation reveals the plants violated the law.

The crackdown came just two days after Chavez revoked the licenses of 34 radio stations, ruling the stations were operating illegally. The closings were met with fierce protests from international media groups and human rights activists that have accused the government of trying to stifle dissent.

Chavez said previously that the revoked licenses could be given to broadcasters who share his socialist vision.

More than 200 other radio stations are under investigation, as is Globovision — the only strongly anti-Chavez television station remaining on the open airwaves. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are discussing a bill that would punish yet-to-be-defined "media crimes" with up to four years in prison.

Some 200 Venezuelans gathered outside a Caracas radio station over the weekend to protest Chavez's decision.

The demonstration occurred outside CNB 102.3 FM, which cut its over-the-air transmission Saturday morning on orders from the telecommunications regulatory agency and is now transmitting only over the Internet.

Station director Zaira Belfort said CNB planned to appeal the order, but she warned that the shutdown decision is likely "only the beginning of the closures of free media in Venezuela."

"This is a government attack," she said. "We want to keep living in democracy, and once again they've silenced us."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Fox News

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