Meet the grower: In conversation with Jerry Louis-Fernand

23 Sep 2022

Environment & Ethics

Cacao Grower, Saint Lucia

Jerry Louis-Ferrand (right)

Proving that age is but a number, Jerry is a busy man with a passion for cacao farming. He talked to us about his life as an ‘Island Grower’ and the things that drive his love of life.

You’re speaking to me now at the latter part of my life – 69 coming to 70 – but I’ve always been a very energetic person. It takes more than one thing to content me. Apart from serving on many local organisations – sports, social, educational, agricultural – I bought some land and started developing cocoa. My friends ask me, ‘Where do you get the time for doing all of that?’ But I plan my time and I stick to it. That’s how I’ve been able to accomplish it.

My main passion now is the cocoa farm. I’ve been replanting and replacing a lot of plants because I lost quite a few trees during the dry season this year. I’ve planted about 1,250 and by the time I’ve finished I should have 1,500 trees. I love trees. I like to plant them and see them growing. You nurture them and then, wow, they start to produce. As long as you can have a good cocoa crop, you’ll never have enough, because Hotel Chocolat will buy all that you can supply. And the price is attractive, demonstrating their ethical business model.

I’ve ended up as a good mediator between Hotel Chocolat and the cocoa farmers because of roles I’ve played in the past. Farmers trust me and rely on me for information and question me quite a bit. For example, they had a situation about which day of the week they receive payment. Now with the new system, we are transferring funds on a Thursday, so they can attend to their affairs on a Friday, which is perfect.

To be a good cocoa farmer, you need to be passionate

There must be commitment, and you must be consistent. To get started, you need to increase your knowledge and find out as much as possible. For example, you probably wouldn’t know about witches’ broom, black pod and other funguses and parasitic plants you need to get rid of. The best way is to let the cocoa tree survive organically, rather than giving it artificial fertiliser to maintain growth.

Organic farming should always be encouraged wherever possible.

I grow a lot of coconuts, and I’ve got a heap of rotting coconut husks that are almost turning into soil. I use the husks a lot when I’m planting cocoa trees. You put them in the hole and plant the tree there. In the dry season, when there’s not much rain, the cocoa tree roots will be able to use moisture from the coconut husks you’ve put in the hole. I also use the cocoa pods. I put them in a place where they can rot and I use them as manure for the trees. That’s the way it’s going now – people are using every aspect of the cocoa. It means nothing goes to waste and I’m so happy we’ve reached this point.

Biodiversity is good for the land, and the cocoa thrives.

While planting cocoa, you can ‘intercrop’ something that will also give you a return as well as help the cocoa trees grow. For example, providing the cocoa plants with the shade they need. Mango is one of my shade trees, as well as avocado, wax apples and citrus. I had a very good year with all the different exotic mangoes on my farm. I also have 98 coffee trees planted so far. Out of those, about 49 are already bearing. I’m going to have a lot of coffee. If you don’t have the time, then stick to your tree crop, because it calls for less maintenance than short-term crops.

One of the things that has really helped me, which I rarely talk about, is my prayer life.

That is why I served in the church as president of the council for 10 years. If people have injuries, I pray with them and I pray for them, whether in person or in private. I just feel we all should have that obligation in caring for life. Whether it’s human or animal life, it’s important we play a role.

At home, every Sunday, we have a family breakfast. My wife makes a very good cocoa tea with a ‘French’ flavour. She uses custard powder, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove and grates the cocoa into boiling water so it comes out very fine. It’s incredible and she makes it weekly. We have quite a wide porch that goes right around the house, with chairs and tables, where we enjoy our tea and breakfast.

All my children are grown up now and have all moved into doing things of their own choice. So they’re not too involved in what I’m doing on the farm. My family sometimes worry that I’m doing too much. But I’m okay! I love what I’m doing. Once I like what I’m doing, I’m feeding myself properly, I’m sleeping six hours or so, and I’m good to go. Sometimes even I’m baffled by the amount of things that I do, that I’m energised to do. I love my life here.