Forteza Caribbean Chocolate announced the implementation of a plan to produce and distribute among local farmers some 12,000 high-performance cocoa trees through 2020, with the support of the Puerto Rico Agriculture Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The company said the addition of the new trees should lead to the creation of 100 to 200 new direct and indirect jobs. Currently, Forteza’s operations generate 15 direct and 50 indirect jobs in Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector.
The distribution of these trees will serve to increase the supply of cocoa grown in Puerto Rico for the company, as well as its production of fine chocolate. Some 4,000 trees will be distributed on a quarterly basis, starting in April.
The inventory consists of grafts of 10 of the most productive and better varieties from the USDA Tropical Agricultural Research Station in Mayagüez.
“We’re confident that, as a result of this project, we will be able to dramatically increase our purchases of cocoa from Puerto Rico, as well as chocolate production,” said Eduardo Cortés vice president and founder of the Forteza Caribbean Chocolate brand belonging to Cortés Hermanos.
“We’ve learned a lot after our previous effort of distributing 10,000 trees in 2014, with which we were able to lay the foundations to develop a local cocoa industry and ensure the supply of raw material so that we could create a 100 percent chocolate from Puerto Rico,” he said.
Cortés explained that in this second stage of the project the company is looking for a higher production yield in the long term, since the farmers now have more experience with cocoa cultivation.
It is expected that the current cocoa production will double after the distribution of the new trees has been completed. Moreover, Cortés predicted that with these new trees it will be possible to triple the brand’s cocoa supplies in a period of three to four years.
The productivity of the cocoa trees increases each year until reaching its peak after the fourth year of development. In this sense, the trees that were previously distributed have not yet reached their maximum performance, since they are only in their third year of production and their development was delayed due to the impact of Hurricane María.
According to the company’s projections, with the new distribution, cocoa production could reach 10,000 pounds per year by 2021.
“Although these projections are dependent on external factors, we’re confident in the ability of farmers to produce as they have previously experienced the process and mastered it,” said Cortés.
“We’re certain that this round of trees will produce substantial results in terms of the growth of production and the local industry,” said Cortés.
Forteza’s current suppliers will have priority when it comes to the distribution of trees. The remaining trees will be made available to other bona-fide farmers interested in supplying cocoa to the company.
“We want to expand the base of suppliers that have experience and can commit to supplying cocoa for Forteza,” Cortés said.