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Potential for development of cocoa industry seen

By Bob Makin PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 4, 2011) – It is certainly worthy of the name "Vanuatu: dark, mysterious and delicious".

The main mystery was how a chocolate block purchased in Vancouver could possibly have the name Vanuatu.

Fortunately the wrapper had an e-mail address and contact with the makers of Cachet chocolates revealed they were as proud of their product as they have reason to be.

"The tablet is made 100 percent from cocoa beans from Vanuatu. It is part of a range of tablets, we call Single Origin. We try to show our consumers how the taste of a chocolate bar can be different depending on the origin. When we found the cocoa beans from Vanuatu, we knew we could make a great chocolate from them."

Indeed they did. The writer of this piece can vouch for that.

Daily Post then interviewed Sandrine Wallez of Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu (ACTIV), the trade producers’ group with the main aim of empowering Vanuatu producers to make the most of their commodities and processes.

"ACTIV helps make money for our groups of producers. Where cocoa is concerned, we found a Netherlands business anxious to give a market to the South Pacific. However, Vanuatu cocoa was shipped together with cocoa from the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. We had to supply information about the full chain of suppliers because Vanuatu held the ‘team leader’ position."

ACTIV was the trade facilitator. It links the producer with the buyer. The Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu has helped three producer groups in cocoa production in Vanuatu.

"The cocoa beans went to Germany and from there to the Dutch manufacturer. Our cocoa came from production groups in Epi, Malakula and Santo. Cocoa needs very high standards of quality for export. Unfortunately we don’t yet have all the necessary capacity to measure and maintain the standards. This also goes for other agricultural produce. There is an additional difficulty if we want to be able to certify that the produce has come from organic soils. This degree of certification can be expensive."

ACTIV is trying to find closer markets and is also looking at Value Added products - cocoa butter and powder.

Sandrine Wallez went on to say that the distant German entry point to Europe is expensive, especially as regards the freight cost for the beans. A twenty foot container going to Europe costs too much for the small producers in Vanuatu.

"However, if we could get certain chocolate makers in Australia to share a container of cocoa beans this would significantly reduce the shipping costs for our three producers. We are also trying to open up a market with New Zealand."

Both these nearby countries still import quality manufactured chocolate from Switzerland and other European countries.

Sandrine told Daily Post that local chocolate production from Vanuatu cocoa beans may also be a possibility.

Wallez and ACTIV are pursuing the technology of a small-scale industry.

It exists in the Caribbean island of Grenada.

"It may be necessary to adapt equipment used by big chocolate makers. But Trade Aid in New Zealand feels it may be able help us. They say that the main New Zealand line of chocolate is 70 percent black. This would suit Vanuatu very nicely as the cocoa beans are the only and main ingredient."

It would suit us nicely too, here, to have Vanuatu chocolate locally produced rather than traveling round the world with every possibility of our missing out.

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