Friday, 17 March 2017

Better beans for quality chocolate from Bougainville

ACIAR has a toothsome horticultural project underway in Bougainville – it’s all about chocolate. But our favourite tasty treat is actually much more than a quick snack or an after dinner mint, it is an important cash crop for smallholder farmers. In fact cocoa production directly supports about two-thirds of the population in Bougainville.

Last July, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville held a chocolate festival to open up opportunities for their cocoa industry and improve the lives of local communities.  Assisted by the PNG Government and ACIAR, chocolate makers from Australia were invited as judges and potential buyers of the cacao beans.
Cocoa beans in the pod: photo Connor Ashley
When connections are made between specific chocolate growers and chocolate buyers, a better product comes out. The growers can get direct feedback on the flavour and aroma of their beans, and the quality, and can adjust their growing, drying and storage methods. The main messages for the farmers at the festival were to eliminate smoke, ferment properly and dry correctly, preferably with the sun.

More careful production will mean the chocolate makers get a reliable source of a quality product, with an individual flavour. This process leads to a better result than just pooling all the beans from a group of farmers, and sending them off into the world, with the growers none the wiser about their destination, and given no individual feedback about their own produce.
Cocoa beans on their way: photo Paul Jones
Bringing together individual cacao bean growers and boutique chocolate makers allows for bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing. As a result of last year’s chocolate festival, a shipment of beans was sent to Australia from particular farmers. 

A number of sacks arrived at Jasper and Myrtle Chocolates in Canberra this month and they have already started making chocolate. They will use special packaging to feature PNG/Bougainville and will start market trials with their Bougainville chocolate bars very soon.  Ms Li Peng Monroe, founder of the company said ‘We are delighted to finally receive these beans, in particular those from a gold medal farmer we contacted as a result of the Festival.’

‘It has taken a constant effort and involved many people, including ACIAR, to make this first shipment possible and we are very grateful to all.  It is now our job to turn the beans into high end chocolate,’ Ms Monroe said.

The container of chocolate leaves Bougainville

The 2016 chocolate festival worked well for the chocolatiers and the Bougainville farmers who learnt a lot about the value of caring for their beans and what that meant for the chocolate makers. And that in turn ticked many boxes for our ACIAR project Developing the cocoa value chain in Bougainville which aims to improve the profitability and vitality of smallholder cocoa farming families and communities, and through that, to build community health and wellbeing.

A further project aim is to foster and strengthen public and private sector partnerships and facilitate access to premium markets. The special dark milk chocolate being created right now in Canberra by boutique chocolatier Jasper and Myrtle is a sign that this can work.

With the extra effort going into the Bougainville beans as a result of our ACIAR project this chocolate should be something really special. We look forward to a taste test – and also to seeing improved livelihoods for the cocoa farmers of Bougainville.

For more read our pdf factsheet  

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