Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Inaugural Bougainville Chocolate Festival a sweet success

The inaugural Bougainville Chocolate Festival was held in Buin and Arawa on 5 and 6 July 2016. The festival was an initiative of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville led by the Department of Primary Industries in partnership with the Australian Government and was strongly supported by a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded ACIAR project “Developing the cocoa value chain in Bougainville”, which is being implemented through a partnership of PNG and Australian research organisations led in Australia by the University of Sydney.

The two-day festival aimed to encourage good cocoa farming and processing practices and raise awareness of the efforts of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and its partners to develop the chocolate industry and market links.

Canberra-based bean to bar chocolate makers Peter and Li Peng from Jasper and Myrtle attended the festival. Below, they tell us all about their Pacific chocolate adventure.

We left cold, cold Canberra on a Sunday morning (-5 degrees) on the first flight out (O dark hundred, we call it) which was just as well because it was foggy (and would muck up the flight schedules). Arriving in Port Moresby that afternoon to the warm sunshine, I was buoyed by the idea of spending 6 days in a tropical paradise.

The first day of the Bougainville chocolate festival was held in Buin – in the southern region of Bougainville. Our journey from Arawa to Buin took three hours each way by four wheel drive vehicle. The trek took us through rough terrain and unsealed roads, meter deep river crossings, potholes the size of bathroom sinks, dogs darting in front of the vehicles, bridges, (both intact and partially collapsed) which we crossed, beautiful scenery of beaches, mountains and forests. We could even see the Solomon Islands from one hill.

On the second day of the festival, held in Arawa, we attended a seminar where farmers were given feedback about their cocoa beans which had been made into chocolate and judged by the three chocolate experts from Australia. The farmers were given several tips on how to improve the quality of their beans. The judges then provided them samples of chocolate made from good and poor quality beans to demonstrate how important it is to process the beans correctly. This was a first for many of the farmers who clearly appreciated the messages coming from their end consumers. The main take home messages for the farmers were to ‘eliminate smoke’, ‘ferment properly’ and ‘dry correctly, preferably with the sun’.

It was a valuable session for us too as we got to hear about the farmers’ concerns on how to best dry their beans and what the optimal fermentation technique was. With the seminar over, we then got to meet the individual farmers and make connections with those who had produced the best quality beans. It was indeed a worthwhile experience and we are looking forward to working with those farmers to make a unique Bougainville chocolate.

Both days of the festival proceedings in Buin and Arawa were colourful events attended by farmers, stall holders, politicians, Australian Government officials, researchers, locals and a sprinkling of tourists. There was a great vibe on both days of the festival, with some fantastic traditional dancing and music.

The carnival like atmosphere was only interrupted by the thunderstorms that fell at the Buin festival. Even that did not stop the local children running around in the wet and slip-sliding in the mud enjoying themselves.

After the official proceedings of the second day, we visited a cocoa farm in the area and a buying centre where farmers brought their beans to sell. These were then loaded into shipping containers for transport, mostly to Port Moresby. This day concluded with the post festival official barbeque at Tunuru beach where a ‘mumu’ was served after the guests of honour were officially welcomed, blessed and anointed. This was a traditional feast of meats cooked over stone fires served with a range of root vegetables. For most of the night we were entertained by the Amiong cultural group; with their music, singing and dancing. The feast was absolutely delicious and everyone had a great time. We had just attended a successful two-day chocolate festival, were on a beach that was like paradise, enjoying a traditional feast and being entertained by South Pacific musicians, singers and dancers. This is the stuff you see in movies!

Our last full day was spent meeting a few more people who were very keen to see a strong resurgence in the cacao industry on Bougainville. We also took a short banana boat ride around the nearby islands (Papaya Beach and Pok Pok Island) where we swam and snorkelled in the crystal clear water in this beautiful paradise. It was another brilliant day.

What a fantastic event for everybody concerned but mainly the cacao farmers of Bougainville. The farmers provided cacao samples to be made into chocolate and then judged. The judges then gave direct feedback to all farmers on what was needed to make good cacao beans, along with samples of what was good and not so good. It was inspiring to see how well the farmers took the feedback, all committed to improving. The festival also involved researchers, health improvement initiatives, transport providers, the Cacao Board and many more sectors important to the revival and development of the Bougainville cacao industry. We made great connections and learnt a lot. On the fun side, the community turned out in large numbers and there was superb local dancing and music, not to mention a greasy pole climb!  Congratulations to all involved in organising this event, we feel privileged to have been a part of it and look forward to the next one.

As a small footnote, all government agencies did a great job to get the festival organised and run so well, congratulations. Our main contact was through the team at ACIAR and so we send a very special thanks to them; Peter, Emily, Sheerah, Erin and the ever shy and quiet Grant (if it wasn’t for your shirts, Grants, we would hardly notice you).

By Peter and Li Peng of Jasper and Myrtle Chocolates, a small bean-to-bar manufacturer in Canberra who became inspired to pay their own way to the Bougainville chocolate festival.

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