Cocoa expansion a sweet prospect
The cocoa industry will continue to reap major benefits if famous chocolate makers, Whittaker’s, succeed in their push to extend a Kiwi government supported programme for cultivating growth of Samoan cocoa exports.
Matt Whittaker, the company’s Chief Sales Officer, told Radio New Zealand his company has extended The Whittaker's Cocoa Improvement Programme and hopes the Kiwi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will also continue to invest in it.
What began in 2014 as a purely commercial goal to create a Samoan single origin chocolate bar turned into a social project to rejuvenate a lapsed industry that suffered economic and environmental shocks in the 1980s.
“Given [Samoa’s] relevance to us as a country, their cultural impact on this country is significant, they are very close, very good neighbours of ours,” Mr. Whittaker said describing what he said was a natural partnership.
The fourth generation chocolate makers have helped Samoa’s industry by not only by providing a market demand for its cocoa, but also the tools and expertise to improve the industry.
Part of that includes incentivising farmers to grow and harvest cocoa the way Whittaker’s wants to buy it, which includes sun drying and not roasting the beans.
“We pay a premium for this cocoa alongside the investment in the cocoa,” Mr. Whittaker said.
“It’s not easy but we’re making very good headway.”
Whittaker’s supplier, commercial and social partner in Samoa is Savaii Koko run by fourth generation cocoa farmer Tupa’i Saleimoa Vaai.
In an unpublished interview with the Samoa Observer earlier this year he said that the industry desperately needs the investment Whittaker’s and New Zealand can provide because production is low, and the local market demand is high.
As well as harvesting and exporting his own 300 acre cocoa plantation, Tupa’i has 300 farmers exporting through Savaii Koko, to which he pays 90 per cent of what he earns from the sale per kilo.
This helps make up the large demand Whittakers and his other customers have (60 per cent of Tupa’i’s shipment is from other farmers), but even then it is not always enough.
Then, Whittakers were receiving one or two containers a month from Savaii Koko, barely enough to make up enough for their single origin bar sales, he said.
Investing into providing seedlings to farmers to increase their crops, teach valuable plant husbandry skills and convince the farmers that exporting a better quality product is more value than selling koko Samoa to the local market are all part of the challenge.
“But it’s giving back and seeing a lot of farmers really get that enthusiasm to go into cocoa has been great,” Tupa’i said. The partnership and funding from Whittaker’s and M.F.A.T has helped a great deal.
Mr. Whittaker sounds passionate about keeping the relationship going, especially with the Va’ai family.
“It’s not often you get the opportunity to have such a close link with a cocoa growing family and farm a three hour flight away from New Zealand. It’s a really special relationship for us.”
He will be in Samoa at the end of November to visit Tupa’i and the operations, he said.
“It’s a great thing to be able to assist with a family that is so dedicated to producing a quality product.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Whittakers is working towards extending their Cocoa Improvement
Programme, when in fact it has extended it. The article has been amended to reflect this.