SOLOMON Islands cocoa farmers and processors are encouraged to make use of the “golden opportunity” presented by the Cocoa and Chocolate week which is currently underway in Honiara since Monday.
Now in its second year running, the event is organized collaboratively and funded by Australia (DFAT) in partnership with the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA), the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access program (PHAMA), the Rural Development Program (RDP) the Commodity Export Marketing Authority (CEMA), Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) and private sector representatives.
Speaking at the official opening on Monday, Permanent Secretary of the MAL Jimi Saelea said the chocolate week provided an avenue for participating farmers and processors to learn from the visiting chocolate makers on areas such as solar drying technologies, advises and production issues to enable them produce better quality of our cocoa to enter into the international markets.
“Accessing high end markets or niche markets has always been a challenge for Solomon Islands because of a number of factors including quality issues, where smoke taint in cocoa beans is an automatic disqualification for beans targeting the chocolate manufacturing market, a market Solomon Islands really need to access because of the better prices offered.”
The highlight of the event is the week-long chocolate making and tasting competition in which selected farmers throughout the country compete on the quality of the dry cocoa beans they produce.
The competition will be judged by international chocolatiers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America.
Apart from oil palm Mr Saelea said coconut and cocoa are the two most important cash crops for the country for the last 4 to 5 decades.
“These crops and the commodities derived from them are important sources of export earnings and are an equally important source of livelihoods income for those involved in their production, particularly the rural population.”
The permanent secretary referred to the Guadalcanal farmers David Kembu and female farmer Elsie Vota whom their cocoa products have won international awards in the past two years, as examples for aspiring cocoa farmers.
“Solomon Islands must not see these achievements as the end but the beginning to what will become a hard and hopefully not a long journey into the high end market that offers competitive price, and reward quality,” Mr Saelea said.
He reiterated that the government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is committed to supporting the sector by assisting exporters, processors, traders and producers take this new journey.
“The DCC government policy is very clear, it wants to see increase in the production and export of high quality smoke free dried cocoa beans to niche or high end markets that offers higher and competitive prices and recognises the value of Solomon Islands cocoa beans.”
“So much so that its support to innovative ideas to producing smoke-free cocoa drying technologies is unwavering,” Mr. Saelea said.
The Permanent Secretary on behalf of the Government thanks the Australian government, PHAMA, RDP, ADRA, CEMA, the overseas guests representing chocolatiers from New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America and everyone who have contributed to the organizing of this chocolate week.