April 16, 2015

Reports are that the launch of the Caribbean Agricultural Network (CAN) www.caribbeanagreiculturalnetwork.com  held in the lobby of the law firm of Gabriel J. Christian & Associates in Washington, DC metropolitan area on April 16, 2015 went well. Attendance at the event was high for a weekday evening which saw the pre launch of the Chocolat de la Dominique (coming in summer 2015) in partnership with SPAGnVOLA www.spagnvola.com  the leading premium chocolate maker in Maryland.

The agricultural produce presentation table was well decorated with madras cloth. Neatly atop the table in reed baskets was an array of good looking samples of ginger, hot peppers and dasheen grown on the Nature Island of the Caribbean. At the center of the display was the recently arrived fine flavored Dominica cocoa bean. 

The launch was held under the auspices of Dominica’s US Ambassador to the OAS, H.E Hubert Charles (Ambassador Charles was absent but was represented by Mrs. Charles and Embassy First Secretary Judy Rolle and staff). The endeavor was blessed by Pastor St. Claire Mitchell of Evangel Assembly. The Pastor offered a special prayer during a “Blessing of the Cocoa Bean” ceremony.

The chairperson for the event was attorney Aisha Braveboy, former Chair of the Maryland General Assembly Black Caucus, and one of the moving forces behind the formation of Maryland’s Caribbean Commission.

President and founder of CAN, attorney Gabriel J. Christian praised the  Dominica’s cocoa farmers, and CAN leaders such as Captain Franky Tonge, Co-founder of CAN who is a pioneer aviator in the transport of agriculture products in the eastern Caribbean, CEO Major Francis Richards, Dominica based Directors Errol Emmanuel, Dr. Samuel Christian, Batali Estate liaison Lister Shillingford, and partners such as  Curtis Tonge of First Domestic Insurance, the Dominica Export Import Export Agency (DEXIA) and Dominica Agricultural Producers and Exporters (DAPEX) without whose active support the harvesting, purchase of beans, fermentation and drying processes would not have been possible.  It was revealed that the effort to forge this collaborative has been quietly proceeding for almost two years, before the launch in Washington, DC.

CAN's partner Eric Reid, CEO of Spagnvola, spoke highly of his mission to Dominica in February 2015 at which time meetings were held with Dominica’s cocoa farmers, Min. of Agriculture officials, other government officials including the Hon. Prime Minister Skerrit, Dense Shillingford of Machoucherie Estate, other private sector entities, Dominica Cadet Corps, Dominica State College students and other interested parties. It was during that visit cocoa that the harvested beans were fermented using the closely guarded proprietary methods of the Cocoa international Bean Exchange Organization CiBEXO,founded by Mr. Reid and perfected on his cocoa estate in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Claire Nelson who is Jamaica’s representative on CAN, and founder of the Institute of Caribbean Studies www.icsdc.org , stressed that Caribbean agriculture must be revived to ensure we remain productive people, and be assured of our food security. All those who delivered speeches were of the belief that the overseas Caribbean communities, and a more diverse palate among US consumers, made for a ready market for Caribbean products such as cocoa and its derivatives – alongside the fresh produce on display.

Alberta Christian, who was born at Dominica’s Cocoa Center in 1929, was saluted as the visionary behind Operation Cocoa Emancipation. She encouraged all to join hands to make a success of value adding in Caribbean agriculture. “We can’t simply grow beans and sell anymore, we must build up our own capacity to make chocolate and other products,” she said.

Dominica’s Minister of Commerce, Enterprise and Small Business Development - Hon. Roselyn Paul who happened to be visiting DC came by and gave her support. The major Caribbean countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto, Rico, Trinidad etc. were well represented. Former Dean of the Caribbean Diplomatic Corps, St.Lucia's Ambassador Dr. Eddie Edmunds (Ret), an agriculture scientist himself, gave the effort his fervent support. The attendees were informed that the CAN/Spagnvola partnership intends to go beyond Dominica and embrace the opportunity to develop all Caribbean agriculture producers in its network, focused on value adding. 

Also in attendance was CAN's Puerto Rico representative, Alex Salinas Ortiz,  its  partners Sweet & Spicy – a Caribbean food distributor; freight forwarder Caribbean Cargo DC www.caribbeancargodc.com , Negril, a Jamaican owned food manufacturer of the Jamaican beef patty in metro DC; Dominican engineer Gregory Lewis, proprietor of Precision Engineering who has made parts for the US Space Shuttle; Lee Allen - representative of the National Black Growers Council, www.nationalblackgrowerscouncil.com   Dominica born surveyor Fitzroy Bertrand and his realtor wife Anelia Bertrand; Dr.Osmond Baron, Dr. Adelbert James,and  Dominican economist, Dr. Thomson Fontaine of  The Dominican.net among many other distinguished guests. 

CAN's partner food scientist Joseph Ushinski of Extravagant Catering http://www.extravaganteventscatering.webs.com/  who was a key player in the launch of Chocolat de la Dominique on Dominica in 2008, presented a delicious culinary offering. The guests were able to enjoy Nature Island dasheen puffs with cilantro and cod fish bits, cocoa infused chicken and pork strips, a dessert of fried plantain in cocoa powder, alongside cool sorrel beverage infused with Dominica ginger, and Spagnvola’s signature chocolate drink to wash it all down.

During the reception the video Operation Cocoa Emancipation  was shown produced by documentary makers Dan Feliciano and Michael Williams .

The overall impression was one of unified purpose by a broad Dominica/Caribbean/US collective, intended to forge a path of self reliant growth aimed at the development of their community – at home and abroad.  CAN’s management disclosed that the US launch of 70% Chocolat de la Dominique (single source chocolate) will take place during Caribbean American Heritage Month, June 2015. The launch of Chocolat de la Dominique on island will take place shortly thereafter.