Thursday, 13 March 2014

Champions for chocolate - smallholder cocoa farmers linked to high-end chocolate makers

Smallholder cocoa farmers in Vanuatu are linking up with Australian and US chocolate makers enabling new economic opportunities, through ACIAR’s Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI). The project ‘Facilitating improved livelihoods for Pacific cocoa producers,’ is focusing on ways to help cocoa farmers shift from exporting a low-value yet important commodity crop to producing a much higher value ‘niche market’ product. 

Cocoa beans need to be dried just right for great-tasting chocolate
Research addressing local cocoa farming issues and in-depth value chain studies began back in 2010. The value chain approach focused on understanding and meeting consumer needs. The project was well-timed to coincide with growing interest in South Pacific cocoa from a number of high-quality chocolate makers, some of whom have since become invaluable project participants.

Australian chocolate companies Haigh’s Chocolates (in Adelaide, South Australia) and Bahen & Co. (in Margaret River, Western Australia), and United States (San Francisco)-based Guittard are three of the companies providing support. They assess cocoa bean quality and recommend how farmers can change practices to reach higher standards and receive premium prices.

For example, Bahen & Co produced chocolate from different Vanuatu cooperative cocoa samples and then went back to Vanuatu with the research team to carry out taste-testing sessions with the farmers. They identified quality defects resulting from smoke taint and under fermentation – this was a very powerful exercise considering some farmers had never tasted chocolate before.

Guided by the companies' feedback, researchers are working with the farmers to, for example, improve bean-drying practices and avoid smoke tainting—a common quality issue across the South Pacific.
Mr  Basile Malily (centre), Director of the Cocoa Growers' Association
of Vanuatu, met with Haigh's Chocolates managers Peter Millard (left) and
Ben Kolly (right) at their Adelaide office. Haigh’s Chocolates is keen to
help support sustainable cocoa growing initiatives worldwide.

Project leader Prof Randy Stringer of University of Adelaide says cocoa farmers are inspired by the ongoing advice, support and encouragement provided by collaborating world-class chocolate companies.

Local business interest in niche market chocolate has also skyrocketed. In the coming months, Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu, a major partner in the cocoa work, aims to establish a small factory to produce high-quality local chocolate. Later in the year, project partners will stage a first-ever, national chocolate-making competition to coincide with Vanuatu Tourism’s Gourmet Food Week.

Through activities such as these, Vanuatu smallholder farmers are improving their cocoa industry’s capacity and mapping out a strong reputation across national and international cocoa arenas. In the future, they are likely to be able to meet an ever-increasing demand for unique, high-quality cocoa and significantly improve their own livelihoods.

By Julie Lloyd, PARDI Communications

More information:
Project leader Randy Stringer, email:

ACIAR’s PARDI program website
PARDI’s website 

Related ACIAR project PC/2008/046 Rehabilitating cocoa for improving livelihoods in the South Pacific 

Bahen & co news article on their trip to Vanuatu to taste test chocolate samples with cocoa farmers

e-Science article From cocoa beans to chocolate bars: how our love for chocolate helps Pacific farmers 

Article on South Pacific cocoa growers rate their own beans 

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