Bougainville – Fact finding mission, June 2014

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By Gabe

Gabe here – Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder. I’d like to share a bit about my life-changing trip to Bougainville earlier this year.

I first learned about Bougainville through our good friend and now collaborator, Sera Price.

Sera (WCF hot chocolate addict) happened to mention she had been volunteering / working between Wellington and Bougainville for the past four years. Her passion for this fascinating region and its extraordinary people was dangerously contagious.

To be honest I didn’t really know much about this region outside watching the brilliant feature film ‘Mr. Pip’ (staring Hugh Laurie) which is centred around the ten year conflict between PNG and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army which ended in 1998.

mr-PIP

After one of Sera’s work trips to Bougainville she managed to bring one kilo of the finest cocoa beans back for us to make into chocolate. It was incredible, I had never tasted chocolate like this.

James

James Rutana, Bougainville’s ‘Mr Cocoa’

I had to see this for myself. A few weeks later I travelled to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville with Sera to meet cocoa legend James Rutana –  affectionately known locally simply as ‘Mr. Cocoa’.

After walking through his impressive plantation we took a short break in his cocoa training shed. Over a refreshing cup of tea we discussed all things cocoa. I learned so much from James that day and he also learned about the new chocolate revolution which has been brewing around the world over the past 10 years.

James and me

I told him about the many artisan chocolate factories around  the world who, like us, are searching for new and rare cocoa to make into high-end chocolate, and who will pay a premium for top quality beans. Up until my visit Bougainville was only dealing with multinationals whose focus is on volume, with no regard to quality or diversity. It was interesting to learn that not only was cocoa their primary export, but it was typically loaded into sacks labeled Papua New Guinea, and often made into cheap confectionery by multinational organisations who have no regard for social or environmental issues. No names, you know who I’m talking about!

James confided in me that he was on the verge of giving up his farm, which before the civil war had employed some 350 local people. Industrial chocolate makers weren’t interested in quality or diversity. What’s the point of focusing on quality if it’s only going to end up as confectionery?

By the time we’d finished our tea we had hatched an ambitious plan to sail his beans together into Wellington harbour and make them into world class chocolate, showcasing Bougainville as a world-class cocoa producing region!

Bougainville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Everyone I met there was a passionate ambassador.

Entrepreneurship, vision and a drive to build a sustainable alternative to mining was a common theme at the heart of everyone I met… Mad respect!

Here’s a few more pics of the trip:

IMG_2503

Checking out Marlon’s prolific pods.

harvesting

Hard day harvesting

drying the beans

Marlon drying the beans

Robert from Sunkamup - our mate who will organise the sorting and transportation of our fine flavour beans.

Robert from Sunkamup Exports – our mate who will organise the sorting and transportation of our fine flavour cacao beans.

The moment we decided to sail the beans!

The moment we decided to sail the beans!

Yeeeeahhhh!

Yeeeeahhhh!

Sera about to explain how supermarket shopping works in Bougainville.

Sera about to explain how supermarket shopping works in Bougainville. The biggest Paw Paw I’ve ever seen – 12kg of happiness. This beautiful island is so un-touristy, one of those best kept secrets with white sand beaches and no tourists!

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

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James Rutana, the Cocoa Legend

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

James rutana

James Rutana is Bougainville’s ‘Mr Cocoa’. James grew up in Pavaere Village in North Nasioi just behind one of Arawa’s large plantations, grew his first cocoa tree at age 10 in 1958, then worked and learnt from the plantation manager. He went on to study micro-economics and international commodity trading in London. When he returned to Papua New Guinea (PNG) he was instrumental in establishing the PNG Cocoa Board, and was appointed first chairman in 1975. He then set up the PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute and was founding chairman for 10 years. He has worked in the cocoa industry in Jamaica, Ghana and New York and has sat at the Queen’s table for his effort, not that he’d tell you that. He is truly a cocoa legend.

James is a grower at heart. In 1983 he brought a plantation in Bougainville so he could get back to his agricultural roots, 6 years later the civil war broke out. A blockade imposed by the PNG Government lasted 10 years and caused detrimental effects on the social, economic, health and wellbeing of Bougainvilleans. James and his family were exiled to the Solomon Islands. Upon their return in 2002, James was appointed a Commissioner for the Bougainville Constitution during the time the Autonomous Bougainville Government was being formed. He went back to his plantation in 2006.

Bougainville has had to start from scratch. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the war and the private sector fled. Recovery has been slow because there is no insurance, and thus, no bank loans. Grants from the National Government are slow and the Autonomous Bougainville Government is new. However, Bougainvilleans are incredibly resourceful and innovative so they have found local solutions to virtually everything. It’s not easy but it is inspiring.

James had to rehabilitate his plantation which was severely affected by Cocoa Pod Borer (an introduced pest that ruins healthy cocoa pods and decimated the cocoa industry in East New Britain, a province in PNG). For the past 8 years he has been developing new varieties of cocoa and growing techniques to improve yields and quality and has run a programme to share this knowledge and planting materials with other farmers. He has also worked with government agencies and NGOs to develop plans to improve the sector as a whole. He has done all of this without support in increadibly challenging conditions.

James’s cocoa dryer and fermenter, in need of some TLC.

James, Gabe and Gary. Gary is from New Zealand but has lived in Bougainville for over 30 years and is a good friend and cocoa partner with James.

James is not just about cocoa – he’s about permaculture – the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. He grows dry-land rice between the rows of new cocoa trees as an alternative harvest crop before the cocoa is mature. He also encourages farmers to grow pawpaw, bananas and coconut to shade the juvenile cocoa trees, which double as a food source for families and produce to sell at the market. He also has chickens and Bougainville’s first goats to maintain weeds, provide compost and protein.

There are many needs in Bougainville, and many opportunities. We believe James is an asset and we want to support him and his vision. He is passionate about cocoa and agriculture being the backbone of Bougainville’s economy, not mining. Please watch this great clip:

Lets get behind this project and get behind James!

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!