Although this will not be the most profound post on Pacific Islands culture, but one worth sharing nonetheless. I love chocolate and will inevitably seek it out during my travels throughout the region. Recently I came across some news and information regarding the cocoa bean in the Pacific Islands.
Papua New Guinea
The third Bougainville Chocolate Festival will be held on September 21-22, 2018 in Papua New Guinea. Bougainville has long had a good reputation for the cocoa grown there but aid agencies and the autonomous and national governments have been working to improve farming standards.
The festival is part of that process and the chair of the steering committee, Steven Tsivele, said there has been international interest, but they hope this year’s event will bring in more buyers from overseas. “Bougainville beans are now being used for high class, single source chocolate in UK, Europe and Australia. This is one of the big achievements that we have seen from the last couple of years, and we believe we can do more,” said Tsivele.
Cocoa (koko) has become just as much a part of Samoan culture as any other traditional food, considered a national drink. Nearly every family has either a plantation of a number of plants for own use. So when you visit a traditional family in Samoa, you are often treated with a cup of koko.
A major cocoa initiative facilitated by the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and funded by the New Zealand government is ready implement its five-year plan.
According to Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Lemauga Hobart Vaai, after nine months of consulting with farmers as well as public and private sector partners they are ready to embark on a nationwide drive to improve and increase cocoa yields to bring the industry back to its glory days.
“We’re not going somewhere new, our people have been growing cocoa for generations, we just want to take it where we were before. Back in the 60’s through to the 90’s Samoans were huge cocoa producers. We’ve learnt from the mistakes of the past and we will move forward and create opportunities in employment and increase our exports,” he said.
Oral traditions suggest that Samoan cocoa was brought to Samoa from Peru by early navigator ancestors circa 700AD. Along with other plants like tapioca and kumara (sweet potato) traded and grown on Islands dotted among the vast Pacific ocean as subsistence food supporting ancestral inhabitants.
Cocoa is the Solomon Islands biggest agricultural export earner generating the country around USD $15 million annually. There are approximately 20-25,000 small holder farmers and their households involved in the production and more than 50% of producers and processors are women.
In 1883, the very first consignment of Trinidad cacao seeds survived the Royal Botanical Garden of England’s voyage to the south seas. It would take more than a hundred years before the Fijiana Cacao story takes its place in Fiji’s luxury chocolate history.
When the British colonists introduced many crops from Sri Lanka to Fiji including Trinitario cacao beans from Trinidad in the 1800’s, they later planted original varieties of cacao plants in Vanua Levu. The cacao industry developed over time and the number of cacao farmers in Fiji increased. For a while it was a big industry for Fiji but then it disintegrated. One reason was that the government of the day monopolized the distribution channel, which collapsed when there was a fall in world prices. Most farmers deserted their cacao crops and shifted their focus to more profitable cash crops like taro, manioc and kava. Once abundant cacao trees were all but forgotten in the sprawling rainforests, serving sweet crops to native birds and wild animals.
Today, Cacao Fiji Limited is embarking on an ambitious plan to buy cocoa beans from all cocoa farmers in Fiji. Company director and founder Arif Khan said this was the ultimate in terms of cocoa revival since the demise of the industry due to a collapse in the market partly contributed by the coups of 1987.
He said with a progressive Government, economy and market access for all cocoa farmers, the cocoa industry is taking steps towards a revival. “At present we are working in the vicinity of 30 to 40 farmers in Macuata and Bua,” Mr Khan said.“Through our outreach, we have additional 20 farmers who have started pruning.”
The Ministry of Agriculture is also working closely with cocoa farmers around the country in a bid to revive the industry. The interest in cocoa farming has been gradually increasing with 150 growers and interested farmers from as far as Rakiraki and Nairukuruku in Naitasiri recently participating in a field day at Namau Village in Tailevu.
Ministry’s Crop Extension director, Unaisi Waibuta, said, “Cocoa had always been of great interest in Fiji as it can be seen on the Fiji flag Coat of Arms where the lion is seen holding a cocoa pod.” Waibuta highlighted that the government had been encouraging people to plant cocoa on large scale since the early 1970’s and some of the cocoa trees planted at that time still exist.