Securing Loss and Damage finance to protect Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa industry

Although the numbers around the decline of the cocoa industry point to decreasing production, what cannot be quantified are the short- and long-term costs to farmers’ livelihoods.

Day one of COP28 yielded just over USD400 million in pledges to the Loss & Damage (L&D) fund. This is a start, but a long way off from the finances climate vulnerable countries need.

The millions pledged by a select few nations and regions such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Germany, United States, and the European Union (EU) are steps in the right direction. However, according to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Steill, these are baby steps that are “stepping far too slowly”.

When it comes to the impacts of adverse climate effects on food security, Sasha Jattansingh who works as a Loss and Damage expert with Climate Analytics Caribbean, referred to a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on agriculture and food security which estimated losses of USD 3.8 trillion worth of crops and livestock production due to disasters over the last 30 years.

Now that the L&D fund has been operationalised, it has a key role to play in helping the most vulnerable communities that contribute the least to climate change recover from adverse impacts on lives and livelihoods. Although the fund is new, the climate impacts are not.

Caribbean communities have been vulnerable to the climate crisis for years, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Recently these effects have been attributed to the rapid decline in cocoa exports from Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). Professor Pathmanathan Umaharan, Director of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Cocoa Research Centre, identified that the 2022 dry season was marked by unusual rainfall patterns, which contributed to a lower-than-expected yield on cocoa farms nationwide.

Umaharan explained that a typical season helps to “curtail the multiplication of the pathogen and reduces the field inoculum (pathogen levels).” However, as Uhamaran went on to say, when an unusual dry season occurs, such as seen in the past year with increasing rainfall, “the inoculum continues to increase and results in a decline in production.”


Although the numbers around the decline of the cocoa industry point to decreasing production, what cannot be quantified are the short- and long-term costs to farmers’ livelihoods. Still, a June 2023 blog article written by International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials at the Western Hemisphere Department estimated adaptation investment needs for the Caribbean at more than USD 100 billion.

Given that the Caribbean is one of the most exposed regions to climate-related natural disasters, adaptation investment cannot be provided soon enough. Strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change is part of the Global Goal on Adaptation found under Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement. At COP28 thus far, the focus on building the adaptive capacities of vulnerable countries such as Trinidad and Tobago has not been given much attention.

This should be a cause for major concern given that the Global Stocktake sets out to assess how effective country-specific measures have been under the Paris Agreement.

For food systems overall, the Sixth Assessment Report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year paints a grim future in light of the present climate crisis. Issues related to decreasing productivity and availability together with increasing stress placed on food systems highlight the far-reaching implications of increasing temperatures on dangerous heat-humidity conditions as well as more intense and frequent rainfall. These implications are particularly detrimental to vulnerable communities.

Delegates meet for the World Climate Action Summit at a plenary Room at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. ©UNFCCC/KiaraWorth

Cocoa, once the major crop in Trinidad and Tobago, has steadily declined in production since the 1980s. As noted in the FAO One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) workshop held in T&T earlier this year in March, cocoa now contributes less than 1% of GDP. This is a far cry from numbers provided by Frances L. Bekele who estimated that in 1920, cocoa exports from T&T “was £3,226,215 per annum, representing 20% of the world’s supply”.

The impact that our worsening climate crisis has on food systems such as the cocoa industry is one of the reasons that a delegation from the World Food Programme (WFP) is making its presence felt ahead of COP28. Gernot Laganda, WFP Director of Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction, in a media advisory dated 28 November 2023 has called for “stronger engagement by climate and development funders” to help the organisation “scale up climate protection through early warning systems, anticipatory cash, climate insurance and community-based resilience projects”.

When it comes to cocoa production in Trinidad and Tobago, a similar picture of food systems under threat unfolds. To begin with, the cacao tree – which produces the cocoa bean – is fragile to extreme temperatures and humidity. It can only grow in a narrow band 15-20 degrees north or south of the equator. Cocoa is particularly vulnerable to drought which is associated with high temperatures. August 2023 saw record-breaking heat indexes between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius. Increasingly warmer temperatures and unusual weather seasons have been noted by local farmers as a major reason for millions in losses. In a 2018 interview with the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Richard Singh, a rice farmer, stated that the devastating floods brought on by torrential rainfall resulted in approximately TTD 3 million in losses.

Umaharan, in collaboration with Marvin Lewis, Dr Bhesham Ramlal, and Dr. Michael Sutherland, has developed precision agriculture to address loss and damage effects to the cocoa industry brought on by climate change. As part of the precision agriculture system, Umaharan and his team are actively working towards empowering cocoa-growing communities with specific strategies for managing the risks that invariably arise with the worsening climate crisis.

Phase 1 of the precision agriculture system, which has already been completed, involved the zoning of 43 cocoa-growing communities and assessing of soil chemical and physical properties. Phase 2 of the project will use adaptive technology that incorporates meteorological data, satellite LIDAR data, and a citizen scientist application to allow farmers to be better prepared to overcome challenges posed by the ENSO climate cycles and climate change.

While work is being done by those such as Umaharan and his team, the cocoa industry requires large monetary investment to maintain the work currently undertaken. Such investment could provide farmers with the technological support necessary for developing predictive models in cocoa-growing communities. While the very nature of climate change is that its wide-ranging adverse impacts are both slow and rapid as well as unpredictable, Umaharan believes that greater use of technology in the cocoa industry could help T&T develop adaptive measures based on digital information that improves farmers’ preparedness for disasters that can be reasonably predicted such as hurricanes.

To complement large-scale investment opportunities pledged through the L&D fund, more grants must be sought through international agreements such as the one provided in 2015 by the European Union (EU) that amounted to TTD 15 million for the development of cocoa production and processing. Investment should also be directed toward research and the use of new technologies such as the precision agriculture model being utilized by Umaharan and his team. Investment in climate-smart farming practices must also happen to equip cocoa farmers with the necessary means for mitigating further risks to cocoa production.

Climate data projections from Campbell et. al (2021) reveal a stark outlook for the future of the cocoa industry since these projections corroborate the point that the much-feared 1.5 degree Celsius increase may be attained within the next 10 years and 2.5 degrees Celsius “just after mid-century.” Forecasted rainfall decreases as well as temperature increases from these projections will only worsen the frequency of loss and damage to food systems including the cocoa industry.

A 2020 study by Climate Analytics reveals a projected increase in climate damages throughout the Caribbean from 5 percent of regional GDP in 2025 to over 20 percent by 2100. In addition to the Loss and Damage Fund, COP28 negotiations will also mark the culmination of the Global Stocktake, where nations will evaluate the progress on their targets set in the Paris Agreement. It is expected that nations will set even more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scaling up climate resilience measures, and increasing financial support for vulnerable countries. Following COP28, the Loss and Damage fund needs to be continuously increased.

As average temperatures continue to rise globally, leading to – amongst other things – continued devastation to food systems, particularly throughout vulnerable communities, and climate financing will become increasingly important. The almost half a billion dollars in pledges to the Loss & Damage Fund on the first day is a good start.


Jarrel De Matas

Jarrel De Matas

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