File this under “Who knew?” Several Fijian news outlets reported that the cocoa sector there will get a boost in the next governmental budget and that a cocoa growers cooperative may actually begin to manufacture chocolate there.
I had to go back to the statistics to check on Fiji’s cocoa productions. It turns out that it has always been a small player in the global market. In the early 1990s, the country achieve an export level of about 40,000 tons but dropped down to 10,000 tons per year, its average export for the past thirty years or so. For comparison, some of the smaller Caribbean islands produce about that much. For another comparison, the CÃ´te d’Ivoire exports about 1.3 million tons. So Fiji is clearly not a major player.
Production began in the 1970s in response to high cocoa prices, the Fiji Times reports. As prices declined, farmers began to neglect their cocoa farms and focused on sugar instead which was boosted by support payments from the European Union. Now that the EU payments are being phased out and cocoa prices are high again, there is renewed interest in rehabilitating cocoa.
But there is more. In addition to renewed support for cocoa farmers, Fijians are also planning on making chocolate. Tevita Niuvou and fourteen other cocoa farmers of the Tailevu Cocoa Growers Association, who stuck with the crop even when things were bad, are gearing up for eventual chocolate production. The farmers participated in a workshop on chocolate making that, according to the Fiji Daily Post, was organized by a Swedish NGO, Cocoa Bello, and focused on the necessary steps to make good chocolate. The medium term plan is to rehabilitate the cocoa farms, organize exchanges between cocoa growers and chocolate consumers in Sweden and then make chocolate that can be exported to Sweden. Apparently, Fiji grows very high quality cocoa which will fetch a premium in Europe.
That project received another boost when a cocoa grinder and a diesel generator were delivered last week. The grinder and the generated were donated by the Chinese government.
This project sounds a little like the story of the Maya Gold bar made by Green & Black. According to the lore, Craig Sams, the founder of G & B, stumbled upon these neglected cocoa farms in Belize which had been started at the behest of the USDA and Hershey only to be abandoned once prices collapsed. Of course, G & B is now owned by Cadbury.
Time will tell, but the addition of processing to the growing will at least generate value-added that might make the production sustainable even when prices decline from their current levels.
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