Savai’i Koko owners, Saleimoa (Sale) and Rosy Va’ai harvest cocoa beans from their family plantation and collect cocoa produced by neighbouring smallholding farmers from the western Savai’i area and beyond.
The beans then go through the fermenting and drying stages at the Savai’i Koko farm, before being stored, packed and sent to Whittaker’s chocolate producers in New Zealand. Savai’i Koko, located in Asau, Savai’i is one of the main exporters of cocoa beans in Samoa. It provides local communities with employment opportunities and invests resources in the development of cocoa beans for export.
The Savai’i Koko and Whittaker’s partnership led to the development of the Samoa Cocoa Export Improvement Programme (S.C.E.I.P.) aimed at increasing production of cocoa by sharing experiences with growers, providing planting materials, training and the equipment.
The main goal of the programme is to increase the vitality, financial returns and resilience of the smallholding farmers and households with vulnerable youth. However, cocoa farming and processing is a labour intensive and time consuming job.
Many farmers would increase their production if they were provided with simple equipment like a dry house to protect cocoa beans from the rain and save farmers their time and effort.
To address this, the Samoa One U.N.-Youth Employment Project (Y.E.P.) provided funding of WST$60 000 for the construction of 10 dry houses in 8 villages at the beginning of 2017. Construction work was completed in May 2017, making it possible for the first ten smallholding farmers to increase cocoa production, and contribute towards improving the standard of living of their families as well as engaging vulnerable youths.
“The Samoa One U.N.-Y.E.P. is a unique project because it targets the youth and women and that’s the future of Samoa”, said Sale Va’ai. “The men do the heavy work with the assistance of youth, but the women do the last part of the process, especially the drying: harvesting cocoa beans involves the whole family unit.
Our idea was to help families with the drying process. If they have a dry house, they can just leave cocoa beans there and attend to other family responsibilities. We selected families who have received dry houses from our most regular suppliers who are committed to developing koko plantations. It’s the commitment what matters.”
Mr. Va’ai also shared his concerns and plans on the future development of the district and the community: “When seasonal workers, who earned NZD$12 per hour in New Zealand return home, they don’t want to do the same job for a minimum wage that Samoa can offer.
Our plan is to teach them how to plant and farm a cocoa plantation and provide them with plants so that when they return from New Zealand, they can continue working on their own land, instead of looking for employment with other farmers or being unemployed. Koko planting is a long term investment: plant a koko tree, go away for 6 months, come back and just maintain it, and put the experience and skills you got in New Zealand in your own farm. This is a more sustainable way forward.”
During a recent visit to Savai’i the Samoa One UN-YEP team met with many participants of the Savai’i Koko programme including church leaders, business owners, members of youth groups, farmers and their families.
All of them have a role to play in farming and processing cocoa beans of the finest quality, according to representatives of Whittaker’s, who visit Savai’i Koko on a regular basis to oversee the processing of beans, and share experience and resources. More than 150 youths are now involved in the program, which is equipping them with knowledge and skills in cocoa farming and processing that they can benefit from in the future.
Ms. Lizbeth Cullity, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative co-led the Samoa One UN-YEP team during this visit together with Mr. Nanai Savala, ACEO of the Economic Division of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD).
She saluted Savai’i Koko’s on-going efforts to engage more youth and give their families a chance to prosper: “These young people, if they are motivated enough, can start their own koko processing farms. Families, who grow cocoa beans can get approximately 400 tala per week with their current harvests.
Having a dry house is one step towards significantly increasing their production and opening better business opportunities. It is great that Savai’I Koko is leading in this region and sharing their wealth of knowledge with communities,” she said. “This can be a big game-changer, with more small farms producing more cocoa and ultimately making more money.”
The Savai’i Koko initiative is an excellent example of families and communities working together. It is also an example where the Government, the UN and the private sector have joined forces to work with communities willing to work the land and invest in their future. It demonstrates the kind of partnership which can set an example of how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leaving no one behind.
The Samoa One UN-YEP is an economic empowerment program assisting individuals and groups interested in new opportunities and building skills to develop livelihoods and improve their standard of living. The Samoa One UN-YEP Program is a partnership between the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWSCD) and five United Nations agencies (UNDP, FAO, ILO, UNESCO and UNV).