Australian chocolate makers link with Vanuatu farmers | ABC Radio Australia

Australian chocolate makers link with Vanuatu farmers

Australian chocolate makers link with Vanuatu farmers

Posted 21 March 2014, 13:08 AEDT

Cocoa farmers in Vanuatu could benefit greatly from the growing international demand for high quality, premium chocolate.  

That's according to Adelaide University Professor Randy Stringer, who has been working with ni-Vanuatu cocoa bean producers under the Pacific Agribusiness Research & Development Initiative (PARDI) 
Under the initiatiave, high end chocolate companies from Australia and the USA have been linked up with cocoa producers across Vanuatu.   
Samples of beans have been taken from many communities and sent to chocolate makers including South Australian company Haigh's chocolate, and Bahen and Co. in Western Australia.  
"We send them the beans, and they analyse them for us and say 'they're good, but what you need to do is focus on two or three aspects'.  In the case of Vanuatu, says Randy Stringer, that's particularly the drying process and how they ferment the beans after harvest. 
The local farmers have also been able to taste chocolate made in Australia from their own beans and then brought back to their communities by the chocolatiers. Given that manyof the farmers have never tasted real chocolate, this gives them a much better idea of what needs to change to meet the standards demanded by quality chocolate makers.
One of the major challenges faced by the farmers is the need for improved drying methods, to stop the beans being tainted by smoke.  
Basile Malily of the Vanuatu Cocoa Growers Association says that if this problem can be fixed, then the value of the beans will increase, and farming communities will benefit greatly.  And according Randy Stringer, moves are afoot to take on this challenge.
"Right now we're working with groups in the University of the South Pacific, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and University of the Sunshine Coast to set up drier trials across the different islands in different conditions, so that we can adapt these driers for the systems they have." 
At the moment, most Vanuatu cocoa is sold at low prices on the commodity spot market.  But if beans can be sold to higher end niche chocolate companies, then there's much to be gained by both the farmers and the companies involved in the project.
Randy Stringer says the future is looking good.
"I think in another 18 months, there'll be about  ten to fifteen percent of these producers who will be getting a much higher price for their cocoa beans for some very small, modest investments in labour and time to meeting these higher end requirements, these high value chains."
"So I think over the next four or five years we'll see twenty five, thirty per cent of the beans coming out of Vanuatu and you'll start seeing specialty single origin bars from Vanuatu in lots of stores around Australia."

Presenter:   Heather Jarvis 
Speakers:    Professor Randy Stringer, University of Adelaide and leader of the 'Facilitatin improved livelihoods for Pacific Cocoa Producers' project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR);  Basile Malily, Director of the Vanuatu Cocoa Farmers Association.   




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