And this is me! With Raymond Muworo amongst the cocoa trees in Bougainville.
Raymond works for the Division of Commerce of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. He has been a huge help to us, introducing us to key people in the cocoa industry and helping us understand how things work in Bougainville.
I lived in Bougainville for 16 months from early 2010 through a Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) assignment working with the Division of Lands and Physical Planning, of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). I’m still there, on and off these days with a company called Tuia International who are doing neat things working with the ABG to build their capacity and capability.
I love Bougainville! The people are awesome, the place is amazing, and their story is phenomenal. Bougainville is recovering from a civil war that lasted 10 years from 1989 – 1999 and killed 20,000 people, destroyed physical infrastructure, the social fabric and the local economy. The main factors contributing to the war was environmental degradation, disregard for custom and erroneous/inadequate benefit sharing.
Here are some pretty special photos:
The people I have met and have been lucky to get to know have so much passion and optimism about improving their situation and doing it themselves that it’s infectious. During my time there I’ve learnt that land is very important, luckily about 97% is still held by the people under customary ownership. In terms of redeveloping their economy, mining will always be there as an option but agriculture is a sustainable alternative that the vast majority can participate in right now. Bougainvilleans are great cocoa growers! The crisis wiped out virtually everything so they are rebuilding, but the jungle has reclaimed a lot. Unfortunately, this has created conditions for a recently introduced pest Cocoa Pod Bora to thrive. They have achieved a lot but there are still challenges.
I met the Wellington Chocolate Factory folks when I blew into their factory with a mission on my mind. I wanted to know if they could be interested in making chocolate with Bougainville cocoa. They were, and quickly got excited about the idea. Gabe visited Bougainville in July 2014, tasted their cocoa and met some pretty special people. He will write about his trip in an upcoming post.
We have learnt that Bougainville’s cocoa industry is about volume. There is no reward for high quality or unique fine flavours. And the farmers do not know what happens to their beans, other than when they are exported they are labelled as PNG cocoa not Bougainville cocoa. No local recognition.
We have developed a project with local cocoa legend James Rutana, to encourage a new market that will pay a premium price for good quality cocoa beans. WCF will work with James to improve the quality of the cocoa and foster fine quality flavour varietals, and then market the chocolate on the international stage as Bougainville cocoa and chocolate!
Growing a new market of fine quality, ethically traded cocoa will hopefully encouraging farmers to invest back into their own business because they now know more about the other end of the supply chain. It’s about partnership; good communication, mutual understanding and benefits, this way both businesses can grow together.
This is something I have been thinking about for a long time – connecting Bougainville cocoa with New Zealand Chocolate makers. I have seen a lot of initiatives that are big leaps into completely new territory. These are unsustainable and have resulted in frustration. This project will help grow an industry that the vast majority can participate in (and are – cocoa is everywhere!), develop a new market and thus expand the economic options available, put Bougainville cocoa on the map, and make yum “shared value” chocolate – what’s not to like?!
Here are a few of my favourite photos:
I hope you keep following this blog, enjoy hearing the stories and how they’re coming together into this fantastic project. It’s totally worth it.