The Charlotteville Cocoa Yard: Reviving Tobago’s Rich Cocoa Heritage and Empowering a Community

Nestled in the picturesque village of Charlotteville, Tobago, a groundbreaking initiative is taking root, promising to transform the community into a global mecca for cocoa enthusiasts. The Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise, spearheaded by the Tobago Alliance for Resilient Communities (TobagoARC), aims to revitalize the island’s rich cocoa heritage while empowering residents and attracting visitors from around the world.

Tobago’s cocoa story is one of resilience, adaptation, and unwavering community spirit. The island’s cocoa industry dates back to the early 17th century when European settlers first arrived on its shores. By the late 1800s, the Charlotteville Estate and the nearby Pirates’ Bay Estate had emerged as the principal sugar estates in the north of Tobago. However, as global market tides shifted, the Turpin family, who had acquired the estates, made a pivotal decision to transition from sugar to cocoa production.

Following this conversion, farmer families in Charlotteville entered into contractual arrangements with the Charlotteville Estate. Each farmer family was allocated a 30 to 40-acre plot, and the estate would purchase the harvested beans from the farmers and sell them to a company in Trinidad. Additionally, the farmers benefited from a percentage or dividend (called a sess) of the profits from the sold cocoa beans.

Unfortunately, in 1990, the community of farmers and Charlotteville Estate had to close operations due to a lack of interest from the children of the ageing farmers, who could no longer maintain productive fields. As a result, the contractual arrangements between the farmer families and production on the Charlotteville estate ended, and commercial cocoa farming in the area ceased. The estate has been more or less inactive since then.

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Despite these challenges, the vision of revitalizing Charlotteville’s cocoa heritage has endured. Under the guidance of Patricia Turpin, the current owner of the Charlotteville Estate, and through the tireless efforts of TobagoARC, the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise project is poised to breathe new life into the community’s cocoa story.

Today, Trinidad and Tobago is recognized as one of only eight countries in the world that is an exclusive producer of fine or aromatic cocoa – essential to the production of premium or gourmet chocolate internationally. What is even more notable is that local chocolatiers testify that Tobago-grown heirloom cocoa is of even higher quality than its Trinidadian counterpart. It can be reasoned, therefore, that Tobago-grown cocoa is likely the best cocoa in the world.

As the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise project takes shape, it carries the hopes and dreams of generations past and present, ready to write a new chapter in Charlotteville’s cocoa story. By harnessing the community’s rich heritage, resilience, and entrepreneurial spirit, the project aims to create a brighter, more sustainable future for the people of Charlotteville and solidify Tobago’s place as a global leader in premium cocoa production.

Introducing TobagoARC: Empowering Communities for a Sustainable Future

The Tobago Alliance for Resilient Communities (TobagoARC) is a visionary non-profit organization, conceptualised in 2019 by forward-thinking individuals who recognized the need for a paradigm shift in the way NGOs function. Born out of a well-established Environmental NGO in Tobago, TobagoARC’s founders understood that the changing economic landscape necessitated a move towards social enterprising—a model that combines the passion of a social mission with the discipline, innovation, and determination commonly associated with for-profit businesses.

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The urgency of this realization was underscored in 2020 when Tobago, along with the rest of the world, experienced prolonged lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The socioeconomic disruption was far-reaching, affecting even the most established ENGOs. In response, TobagoARC’s founders took the decisive step to register the company as an NPO in 2022, providentially coinciding with the designation of Northeast Tobago as a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve, which includes fifteen (15) coastal villages, with Charlotteville being a major one.

TobagoARC’s vision is “a place where our planet and our people prosper in perpetuity.” This vision is underpinned by the organization’s mission to enable and empower communities in Tobago and beyond to build resilience to climate change, enhance livelihoods through social enterprise, education, and research, and promote healthy living, all in harmony with the natural environment.

At the helm of TobagoARC are three exceptional individuals: Patricia Turpin, Barry Lovelace, and Katrine King. Patricia Turpin, the founder of TobagoARC, is a renowned environmental champion and community leader, while Barry Lovelace serves as a key architect of TobagoARC’s vision and strategy, bringing his extensive experience as a natural resource manager, educator, and community advocate. Katrine King, another integral member of the team, contributes her expertise in information systems to the organization’s initiatives.

TobagoARC’s strength lies not only in its core team but also in its network of 18 advisors and 3 member organizations, each bringing a wealth of experience and a track record of successful community projects and leadership. This collective expertise positions TobagoARC as a dynamic and impactful organization, poised to drive positive change in Tobago and beyond.

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Though a young organization, TobagoARC’s team and partners bring a legacy of community leadership and a deep commitment to sustainable development. As the organization embarks on groundbreaking projects like the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise, it is clear that TobagoARC is not just an NGO, but a catalyst for transformation, empowering communities to build resilience, prosperity, and a sustainable future for generations to come.

The Cocoa Yard Vision: A Thriving Hub of Sustainable Enterprise and Cultural Celebration

The Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise project envisions a future where Charlotteville’s historic cocoa yard is transformed into a vibrant hub of sustainable economic activity, cultural celebration, and social empowerment. By leveraging the community’s rich cocoa heritage and the assets and expertise of the Tobago Alliance for Resilient Communities (TobagoARC), the project aims to create a model for community-driven development that can be replicated throughout Tobago and beyond.

At the heart of this vision is the restoration and development of the 2-acre Cocoa Yard property, which will serve as a focal point for community engagement, education, and entrepreneurship. The 17th-century cocoa drying and fermenting houses will be repurposed to serve as living relics of Charlotteville’s cocoa history, while a visitor centre, museum, and shop front will be developed to support the project’s agro-tourism and community empowerment objectives.

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TobagoARC is currently in discussions with potential partners and funders to launch the Cocoa Yard project during the Tobago Treasures Day event on July 15th, as part of the Tobago Heritage Festival. The launch event will showcase the Cocoa Yard’s potential as a hub of sustainable tourism and cultural celebration, featuring a reenactment of the cocoa value chain from bean to bar, cocoa-themed culinary demonstrations, cultural performances, and guided tours. This event will set the stage for the Cocoa Yard’s year-round operations and future development.

As the project grows, the Cocoa Yard will establish itself as a premier destination for cocoa enthusiasts and tourists seeking authentic, immersive experiences. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on workshops, learn about the history and culture of cocoa in Charlotteville, and purchase locally produced cocoa end products such as premium chocolate, cocoa tea, and innovative Tobago-centric creations like chocolate-coated breadfruit cakes.

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The Cocoa Yard will also serve as a catalyst for community empowerment and entrepreneurship. By providing skills training, mentorship, and resources to local residents, particularly youth and women, the project aims to foster a new generation of cocoa entrepreneurs and artisans. These entrepreneurs will drive the development of a thriving cottage industry around cocoa, creating sustainable livelihoods and contributing to the economic resilience of the Charlotteville community.

In the long term, the Cocoa Yard is envisioned as a self-sustaining enterprise, generating revenue through agro-tourism activities, product sales, and partnerships with local businesses and tourism operators. Regular festivals and events, such as cocoa harvest celebrations and cultural performances, will be hosted at the Cocoa Yard to attract visitors and showcase the community’s vibrant heritage.

As the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise takes root, it will serve as a powerful symbol of Charlotteville’s resilience, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. By harnessing the power of their unique history and resources, the people of Charlotteville are charting a new course towards a sustainable, prosperous future – one that celebrates their past while embracing innovation and community-driven development. The Cocoa Yard is not just a project, but a movement – a testament to the transformative potential of grassroots initiative and the unbreakable spirit of a community united in purpose.

Partnerships for Success: Collaboration and Complementary Initiatives

The Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise project is not an isolated endeavor, but rather part of a larger movement towards sustainable development and community empowerment in Charlotteville. While the Cocoa Yard project is spearheaded by TobagoARC, it is complemented by the separate Charlotteville Cocoa Revitalization project, a partnership among the Charlotteville Estates Company, the Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company (Trinitario), and the Cocoa Development Company (CDC), funded by the European Union.

The Charlotteville Cocoa Revitalization project focuses on three main objectives: capacity building in cocoa production with an emphasis on youth and women, solving the parrot pest problem, and the production and marketing of fine and flavoured cocoa beans as raw inputs for downstream production. The first capacity-building training session took place from June 4th – 7th June, with 25 participants recruited from the Tobago Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme (TRWRP), the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP), and volunteers from the Charlotteville community. By selecting recruits associated with the Charlotteville community, the project aims to develop a skilled local workforce that can contribute to the development of both the Charlotteville Estate project and the Cocoa Yard project.

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The training sessions, conducted by experts from CDC, equip participants with the skills and knowledge needed to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, earning their livelihoods while contributing to the resilience of the Charlotteville community. It is expected that some of these trained individuals will be directly involved in the development and operation of the Cocoa Yard, fostering a strong connection between the two initiatives.

While the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise and the Charlotteville Cocoa Revitalization projects are separate, they share a common goal of empowering the local community and promoting sustainable development. As both projects progress, there is potential for future collaboration, such as the Cocoa Yard sourcing cocoa beans from the revitalized Charlotteville Estate. This would create a powerful synergy, showcasing the community’s ability to cultivate and process high-quality cocoa from bean to bar.

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In addition to the Charlotteville Cocoa Revitalization project, TobagoARC is seeking to forge partnerships with organizations such as the Unemployment Relief Program (URP), the Zion Youths Association, and the Charlotteville Heritage Group. These collaborations will ensure that the Cocoa Yard project remains deeply rooted in the community, fostering a sense of ownership and pride among Charlotteville’s residents.

By leveraging partnerships and complementary initiatives, the Cocoa Yard Community Enterprise project is part of a larger, holistic approach to sustainable development in Charlotteville. Through capacity building, community engagement, and the celebration of local heritage, these projects are working together to create a brighter, more resilient future for the people of Charlotteville, with the Cocoa Yard serving as a beacon of community-driven progress and innovation.

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