A timely intervention by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), in collaboration with the Pacific Community (SPC) and Australian universities, has made a positive impact on the cocoa industry in Vanuatu.

The ACIAR Tropical Cyclone (TC) Pam Cocoa Rehabilitation Project has introduced new approaches to help enhance cocoa productivity and marketing in Vanuatu.

Together with government, other local players like the Cocoa Growers Association (CGA), Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu (ACTIV), and the Vanuatu Agricultural Research and Technical Centre (VARTC), have also contributed immensely to ongoing improvements to the industry.

The CGA, which has been in operation since 2006, works directly with farmers to help them address product quality through better planting materials, pest and disease control, and identifying niche markets that bring better returns.

According to Basile Malily, Managing Director of CGA, increased cash flow resulting from the project has brought about lot of positive changes for the local people.

‘Farmers [in] Malekula were able to send their children to school. [The project] improved their water supplies, especially for those using a well. Now they’ve even been able to purchase fancy goods such as mobiles and television sets’, said Mr Malily.

‘We are the bridge between farmers and market and we try to assist farmers to receive maximum market price, by trying to soften the effect or price posed mainly by traders at the local level.’

‘We also continuously search for new markets and undertake training to upskill our farmers’, Mr Malily added.

Basile while acknowledging ACIAR and SPC, and also mentioned that had it not been for the timely interventions of the Pacific Agricultural Research for Development Initiative (PARDI), and later the TC Pam Rehabilitation Project, the industry could not have progressed to the extent it has.

‘The integrated pest and disease management strategy was introduced in 2012 by SPC scientist, Dr John Konam, and other scientists from the PNG Cocoa and Coconut Institute Limited. That was the beginning of Vanuatu’s cocoa industry success.’

‘Our farmers realised that we don’t need to increase planting areas for increased yield, but we need to follow proper management practices from planting to drying of beans’, said Basile.

TC Pam was an event that almost brought the cocoa industry in Vanuatu to its knees, with production dropping from 250 tonnes to 20 tonnes, due to extensive damages.

Through the support of the rehabilitation project, farmers have been able to bounce back. In 2016 they produced 40 tonnes of cocoa, and they’re expecting to harvest 100 tonnes in 2017.

However, the path to success is not straightforward in a region so vulnerable to the effects of climate change. A number of Pacific countries, including Vanuatu, are currently facing challenges resulting from La Niña. The impact of drought has affected the quality of beans and that has been one reason farmers haven’t reached out to their identified markets in chocolate production.

SPC’s Agribusiness Specialist, Tevita Kete, who has been overseeing the TC Pam rehabilitation project with Agroforestry Technician Vinesh Prasad, believes that once La Niña passes over, CGA will be able to produce the desired quality of cocoa that has earned them a place in niche markets.

‘We acknowledge the support of all stakeholders and look forward for continued support to move the Vanuatu cocoa Industry to a greater heights.’

A joint effort is also being undertaken through ACIAR, SPC and Queensland University of Technology, to carry out a feasibility study on cocoa insurance for farmers in Vanuatu.

Need to link to photo and caption re local chocolate production.

Highlights:
Cocoa farmers in Vanuatu have bounced back from Tropical Cyclone Pam by producing 40 tonnes in 2016, through an SPC-supported project

Related links:
Land Resources Division
ACIAR

About the author:
The article is written by Vinesh Prasad – SPCs Agroforestry Technician
For more information, please contact Vinesh Prasad on Email Vineshp@spc.int