June 8, 2020
by Laura Henry, coordinator of the Central American office of the Institut des Amériques (University of Costa Rica) and doctoral student in geography at the University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle.
The Dominican Republic triggered admiration from some of its inhabitants, especially the expatriates established there, because of its response and strong measures, despite being considered a developing country and being only ranked 89th on the Human Development Index.
As a matter of fact, on March 19, 2020, three days after France and way before most Latin American countries and the Caribbeans, and while the country only had 110 cases, President Danilo Medina declared a national state of emergency for 25 days, and put in place a number of measures to contain the spread of the disease (after the Senate and House of Representatives' approval). The state of emergency was extended twice. It imposed a drastic curfew (from 5pm to 5am), the closure of all educational establishments and non essential businesses, a ban on beaches and other swimming places, the halt of all public transportation, as well as requiring a mask be worn on all trips out of the home.
The country also started several projects, including an information service on the coronavirus through social media, so that the population could have direct contact with over 200 doctors by text messages, audio messages and video calls. In the economic and social domains, three financial aid programs were set up, specifically the Quedate en casa program aimed at workers who depend on informal work and benefiting the poorest families earning a subsistance salary of 5 000 rd$ (about $85.62) per month (the average minimum monthly salary is between 10 729 rd$ ($183.72) and 17 610 rd$ ($301.54) according to the size and type of business). On the Pa’ti program, independant workers received a similar amount. Lastly, the Employee Solidarity Assistance Fund (Fase) is meant for people working for companies and provides a salary of 5000 or 8500 rd$ ($145.55) per month according to each situation. The funds are available. The International Monetary Fund approved an emergency financial assistance of 650 million dollars under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), at the request of the Dominican Republic, in order to finance the social and medical help that was needed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the government has a stable, unified and thoughtful discourse, there are however a few inconsistencies when it comes to applying the measures, and this is being brought to light by people's criticisms posted on social media. Some even doubt the veracity of the statistics because a number of citizens cannot or don't want to be diagnosed.
We should recognize the fact that despite the disorder generated by the curfew and the new social practices to fight the spread of the virus, the Dominicans have shown resiliency and their inherently good humor which has allowed them to overcome all crises.
But what is the impact of the pandemic on the second most exported product in the Dominican Republic, both in quantity (54 891 tons in 2017 according to the FAO) and in price ($135 972 000 in 2017 according to the FAO): cocoa?
The Dominican Republic is the 9th worldwide producer of the cocoa bean and the 10th greatest exporter. It is considered a high quality cocoa producer on the international market thanks to distint plants, fertile land, a favorable climate and a technical itinerary that needs few or no fertilizers or chemical products. But mainly, it is recognized for its particular fermentation process that gives the Dominican cocoa unique organoleptic qualities . Furthermore, the Dominican Republic is the world leader in organic cocoa. This desirable position is new. Until the 1980s, the international markets considered the Dominican cocoa of low, if not bad quality. There was a real paradigm change during which the country was able to improve the quality of its products (40% of the production is considered as "fine and flavor cocoa" ) and improve its image by reconfiguring its industry and building a "country brand" in order to become essential. With over 80 000 tons of beans produced in 2018, the cocoa sector employs 40 000 producers and indirectly touches close to 400 000 people. "On top of beaches, people and baseball, the new ambassador of the Dominican Republic is cocoa".
Right at the start of the health crisis caused by the pandemic, a quick survey was done by the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on cocoa production and sales. For the Dominican Republic, the results are worrisome. Sales of companies that answered the survey have gone down on average 50%. The drastic lockdown put in place prevented the producers and the agricultural workers from going to the plantations during several weeks, until exceptions were granted by the authorities. This caused a decrease in labor in the plantations provoking a return of problems due to parasites and pests, but also a loss in quality because of a loosening of controls which created wait times and delays in certification. There was also a drop in communication. With the quarantine, the only distributors allowed were supermarkets, which meant that any product sold by other marketing venues were halted, including all the fine chocolate which the European market loves. So the health crisis hit the fine chocolate sales harder than the regular chocolate . Some Dominican companies, having a hard time selling their Hispaniola beans on the European market, the main buyer of the fine and flavor, organic and fair trade cocoa , could only sell their conventional cocoa, Sanchez (non-fermented, of lesser quality), on the US market. Because of this, premiums given to producers for their certifications, as well as the added value created by the fermentation, are not paid, which means a decrease in revenu. So, it's the sale of chocolate and chocolate products on a national level and the sale of exported beans that are directly affected.
Because of this crisis, there is discussion on how to turn the situation around and refocus communication and marketing efforts on developping new business strategies for national consumption. Remote meetings between the industry's main players are taking place often in order to increase national consumption of chocolat so that, in so doing, there is less dependence on international markets. Organizing a national chocolate competition, getting involved in schools to develop the taste of chocolate among the young people as well as the association of chocolate with coffee, a key element in Dominican culture, are avenues being considered. According to Yony Molina, project manager of the National Cocoa Commission, the agricultural sector remains the strongest sector and the most resistant to the crisis thanks to the government's effort and major stakeholders in order to maintain food provisions and the smooth operation of the plantations. So the pandemic seems to be bringing together and unifying the agricultural sector, specifically the cocoa sector not only at the national level, but also at the regional one. The Latin American Cacao and Chocolate Summit took place at the end of May and centered on best practices in response to the pandemic on the cocoa sector, to which many players in the Dominican cocoa sector participated.
The Dominican Republic is organizing itself, the stakeholders are communicating with each other, the exporters are trying to support the producers by buying at a good price, even though a lot of orders have been cancelled. Sometimes, the local price of the beans is higher than the New York Stock Exchange's . The cooperatives are also changing their practices to adapt them to the health crisis and aid networks have been created for those in great need. Though chocolate is not an essential food item, sales may not be significantly hit by the crisis. First, according to WHO, chocolate is a product with a low risk of infection so it can continue to be produced and sold if the distribution circuits are still maintained. Then, during the 2008 crisis, chocolate sales increased worldwide by 15%. Maybe this will happen again, after all, chocolate is a known antidepressant!
Given the huge response of Dominican stakeholders to the survey done by the FCCI and to their proposal relating to their project of renewal of cocoa evaluation standards, and according to the FCCI, on top of being a leader in organic production, the Dominican Republic could become a leader in terms of designing innovative policies and procedures. Indeed, this is the first time that a work group of this institution was given a proposal from a country and not from a few isolated players. It seems that Covid-19 has amplified the solidarity of the sector that is positioning itself at the international level as a country and country's brand. The impact of the health crisis on the Dominican Republic is significant, especially for the families that are dependent on the informal economy and for the tourism sector. The overseas Dominican diaspora and the expatriates living or having lived in the Dominican Republic have spontaneously created humanitarian associations to distribute food to the poorest families. But over two months after the state of emergency was declared, faced with the coronavirus, concerns have refocused on previous worries: a big drought that could seriously affect the 2020 production and that could be tied to climate change. So, to really see the impact of the pandemic on the Dominican cocoa sector, we will have to wait until the end of the cocoa season (September) and a more extensive survey. Will the Dominican Republic be able to turn the crisis into opportunity?
 Berlan and Bergés (2013, p24).
 ICCO is a global organization for the sale of cocoa, notably it establishes international marketing norms. 40% of the Dominican production is considered "fine and flavor cocoa" (ICCO 2015).
 According to Bienvenido Then, Cortes Hermanos S.A.
 Bienvenido Then, Cortés Hermanos S.A.
Laura Henry is the coordinator of the Central American office of the Institut des Amériques (University of Costa Rica and the regional SCAC). She is an engineer in international agri-development, doctoral student in geography at the Paris 3 Sorbonne University (IHEAL-CREDA), and an associate researcher with the University of Costa Rica's CIEP.