Sustainable agriculture can be defined as 'sustaining employees and local farmers, resources and communities by promoting good agricultural practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound and beneficial for the community.'
Let's be clear, there are different levels of sustainability. While it's almost impossible to be 100% sustainable due to essential aspects of our business such as transporting cocoa, we do the best we can within these restrictions and continually explore ways to improve.
Sustaining Employees and Local Farmers
In a country where the agriculture sector has been severely challenged, facing rife unemployment since the demise of the banana industry in the 1980s, we have become the largest employer. Our cocoa project is a beacon of hope for many and integral to the long-term, prosperous future of agriculture in St Vincent.
Why? We regularly arrange training sessions for our field staff to equip them with the skills required to work safely and efficiently. This enables them to progress within the company, take on more responsibility and earn higher income. We also provide a small number of independent growers with free plants, advice and help throughout the growing process with offtake agreements to buy their cocoa.
It is in our best interest to sustain natural resources, particularly as we farm our own lands. By following good agricultural practices, we ensure that SVCC's resources are being enhanced rather than depleted.
Our cocoa project is contributing to local communities by providing employment and training, improving local infrastructure, and representing a positive force for the future of farming in St Vincent.
Good Agricultural Practices
Our commitment to sustainability is underpinned by good agricultural practice:
i. Fair Prices and Pay
We pay our team of 150 field workers considerably more than the Fairtrade recommended rates, and all of our employees are offered the opportunity for increased pay and career advancement within the company. Take Aidon Shearman, who started out as our junior accountant and is now Managing Director of St Vincent Cocoa Company!
We also pay farmers considerably more for their cocoa than the recommended Fairtrade rate, at almost double the world market price.
ii. Environmental Conservation
We are working within an increasingly rare rainforest environment. Being a farming family, protecting and preserving this ecosystem is a cause close to our hearts.
We only farm outside the designated protected forest and water catchment areas, and only plant on previously cropped lands. We grow our cocoa in a recognised agroforestry system alongside indigenous trees such as mangoes. A high canopy is maintained with inter-planting of long-term tree crops including mahogany, banana and papaya trees.
Although our soils are deep and fertile, cocoa extracts a lot of nutrients from the soil and requires careful management. Our agronomist is currently working on a program of regenerative agriculture which will ensure that our soil structures improve, while reducing and possibly even negating the need for fertiliser. Meanwhile, all vegetative matter, including pod shell, is re-used on our farms to promote soil health.
Due to steep slopes and high rainfall, there is a risk of flash flooding and even landslides. Fortunately, our trees provide stability to the soil and in higher risk areas, we terrace every single tree that we plant to limit potential soil erosion.
iii. Community Giveback
In addition to the community-wide benefits that arise from supporting and educating our employees, we have a small-works team that is dedicated to improving the schools, facilities and infrastructure where our farms are located.