Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Award puts Pacific Island cocoa on the world chocolate map

David Kebu is convinced that humans are just like cocoa trees.  This is because David Junior has clearly inherited his late father’s superior cocoa growing talents.  David Senior was commonly recognised as the best grower in Solomon Islands.  His cocoa trees frequently produced more than 200 pods per tree each season, while most growers could scarcely manage 50.

Now David’s cocoa has been judged a ‘Cocoa of Excellence’ – among the best in the world – in a competition organised by Bioversity International as part of the recent Salon du Chocolat in Paris.

Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Photo: Grant Vinning

David’s sample was one of only seventeen, out of 145 received from producers in 35 countries worldwide, to receive this accolade.  As to be expected, African and Latin American cocoa producers dominated the awards; but, David was one of two cocoa producers from the Pacific whose sample of beans was recognised as a Cocoa of Excellence!  The other Pacific awardee came from the Lower Watut Cooperative in Papua New Guinea, a country with nearly ten times the annual cocoa production of the Solomon Islands.

David Kebu and his family, receiving their award back in Solomon Islands – in the company of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry and Agriculture and Livestock, Jimi Saelea, and the Australian High Commissioner, Andrew Byrne. Photo: Grant Vinning

David and his two sisters learned their initial cocoa growing skills from their father.  David, Flora and Melie have since refined their skills – with the support of three Australian Government-funded programs:
  • The Cocoa Livelihood Improvement Program (CLIP) that operated in Solomon Islands from 2009 to 2012 provided new planting material and improved husbandry techniques to address the crop’s pervasive pest and diseases issues.  Under CLIP’s guidance, David and his sisters were trained in tree selection and clonal development – identifying the best trees on their farm and propagating these by grafting, to replace the less productive ones.  It was the cocoa beans that came from this effort that were sent to Paris for judging.  
  • The Pacific Horticulture and Agriculture Market Access (PHAMA) program then provided advice and equipment for the fermenting and drying of their beans – key steps in improving quality.  
  • Working in close collaboration, ACIAR’s Pacific Agribusiness Research-for-Development Initiative (PARDI) provided the all-important linkage with speciality chocolate makers in Australia.  By receiving prices that rewarded them for higher quality, the Kebus were encouraged to put more and more effort into producing a quality product.

The judge who made the presentation to David’s representative at the Salon said that David “perfectly ferments to obtain nice brown fruit flavours and a mild chocolate intensity with a hint of acidity”.

David Kebu sun-drying cocoa in Solomon Islands. Photo: Grant Vinning

The reaction at the Salon du Chocolat to David’s award was most encouraging.  Several of the judges stated that this was an outstanding cocoa.  One judge said that the cocoa from the Solomon Islands was the “find of the competition”.  A number of the judges have asked for further samples of cocoa from the Solomons.

Now that David’s award has so dramatically drawn the attention of the world’s chocolate makers to the potential of Pacific cocoa, there is an opportunity for other producers in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the region to build on this success. A concerted and sustained effort in production, processing and marketing will be needed to turn this opening into a full-scale commercial success that can bring benefits to communities and national economies in the Pacific islands.

By Grant Vinning, Marketing Specialist

ACIAR projects HORT/2008/044, the Pacific Agribusiness Research-for-Development Initiative, and HORT/2008/046 on Rehabilitating Cocoa for Improved Livelihoods in the South Pacific contributed research on solar driers and links to Australian bean-to-bar manufacturers (in this case New South Wales artisanal chocolate-maker Zokoko) to the collaborative effort in Solomon Islands. ACIAR will continue to support cocoa industry development in the Pacific Islands through project HORT/2014/078 Aligning genetic resources, production and post-harvest systems to market opportunities for Pacific island cocoa which is due to be launched in early 2016.

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