Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville

AN Australian premium chocolate producer is encouraging people on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville to look at planting cocoa now to take advantage of an expected global shortage in a few years.
Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville Plant cocoa now, Aussie chocolatier urges Bougainville

The Autonomous Bougainville Government is holding a chocolate festival in June in an attempt to persuade local people to grow good quality cocoa which would then be exported to make chocolate.

Problems with the world's main suppliers of cocoa in West Africa, plus rising demand from the growing Asian middle class means the price of chocolate is expected to rise as supply of cocoa drops by 2020.

Chris Jahnke, one of the owners of Charley's Chocolate Factory in Mission Beach, Queensland, whose company is selling premium chocolate bars from beans grown in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon islands, told ABC radio that Bougainvilleans should definitely take advantage of this by planting cocoa now.

"We're about at the point now where supply is equal to demand, but as demand is increasing, especially in places like north Asia and India, there is the scenario where there will be a supply shortage with cocoa. And especially with growing middle classes in China and places like that, there is a demand for premium chocolate, rather than just the bulk stuff.

"Part of the problem lies in West Africa where you have ageing plantations and people moving away from growing cocoa into growing rubber as they can get a marginally better cash return. And to replant ageing plantations - where you have declining production - is expensive, and people are just walking away from cocoa which is exacerbating the world supply problem," said Jahnke.

Jahnke said that to get a reasonable commercial return from a cocoa crop was about a three to four-year time frame, so right now was the best time to be prepared for the 2020.

"It is not just about growing the stuff, it is about producing a quality cocoa, you actually have to get your fermentation and your drying very, very right.

"You can grow terrific cocoa but if you get the next steps, fermentation and drying, wrong you can turn very good cocoa into very ordinary dry cocoa bean. This is something that is done in the villages and if you have six or seven small holders, they might not have enough to do their own fermentation so they would pool their beans. Controlling that fermentation is critical for flavour development," Jahnke said.

Jahnke said he was aware that there were lots of issues with drying all over the Pacific, and in the wet season, villages drying the beans with wood fires which can taint the flavour very dramatically, giving it an undesirable smoky flavour.

"So there has to be a little work done by the collective at the village level for drying facilities, to do away with the wood-fired method. Then you are guaranteed a top-quality, top-price product."

He said the production of the cocoa bean lent itself to small scale farming. "Growing cocoa is a fairly labour-intensive process, the trees need a lot of pruning, the pods need to be individually harvested as there is no mechanical harvesting that has been developed anywhere in the world. So there is a lot of handwork."

He said a family could look after anywhere between 2000 to 3000 trees. "If I understand the economics in places like Papua New Guinea, that would provide a pretty good living, providing they get the fermentation and drying right.

"I believe Bougainville would be a good place for cocoa to grow. I have had discussions with people from New Ireland Province and from what they say about the soil in Bougainville, I think it would be terrific. And they did have a cocoa industry there many, many years ago. It should be resurrected, it should be done - and it should be done now.

"There's absolutely no question at all that we would buy from Bougainville. We would be very pleased to do so because we can then add value to it by making a high quality chocolate product, Jahnke said.

Bougainville, he said, would be using the PNG hybrid cocoa developed by the PNG Cocoa Coconut Research Institute which had a fruity profile which was popular with Australian consumers, rather than the dark, heavy, chocolatey profile of the West African cocoa bean.


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