Haigh’s Chocolates and University of Adelaide researchers are working with Vanuatu farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa beans – and lift their incomes.
The South Australian chocolatier is working with the university’s Professor of Global Food Studies, Randy Stringer, to unlock economic potential among the South Pacific state’s cocoa farmers who have traditionally struggled with low volumes and poor quality.
Stringer believes Vanuatu is too small to be a large exporter of cocoa but this could make them attractive to the high-end chocolate market.
Haigh’s is sharing its expertise on cocoa production to help Vanuatu’s smallholders realise this competitive edge.
“High-end producers want them because they are scarce but they also want the quality, so I think that while Vanuatu will never be a large share of the production, they can be a large share of the high-value beans,” says Stringer.
The project team has brought Pacific farmers to Haigh’s to show them the high quality end product that their beans could achieve.
“For them it’s exciting when they see the potential of their product. We’ve had a Vanuatu blend in our single origin range and they were excited to see the Vanuatu chocolate in a premium retail environment”, says Haigh’s production manager Peter Millard.
The farmers are taking advantage of a rare opportunity to see Haigh’s bean-to-bar production process which differs greatly from commercial chocolate operations that complete different stages of production in different countries.
“A lot of the cocoa they sell now goes over to Cadbury’s and Mars but we think for a modest effort in labour they can get a much much higher return and make a lot more profit in the high-end markets,” says Stringer.
With Cadbury’s paying the farmers $1.25 per kilo, Stringer believes Vanuatu farmers can triple their profit by producing a higher quality single-variety bean earning $6 to $8 per kilo from Haigh’s.
“They can make two or three times as much from their cocoa, and it would go a long way in helping them fund a lot of basic needs. It’s especially important for the villagers in terms of their ability to contribute to their kid’s education, food security and poverty reduction,” says Stringer.
The biggest challenges for Vanuatu’s cocoa producers were the island’s high humidity, and the need to change their drying process to avoid smoke-tainting the beans.
“They could taste the smoke and the mould from drying and then they would taste chocolate made from Brazillian and Madagascan beans and there was no comparison,” explains Stringer.
Stringer has been most surprised by Haigh’s enthusiasm in collaborating with these farmers.
“I mean it is rare to get Pacific island beans but the main reason they [Haigh’s] seem to be working with us is just their commitment to growers and the sustainability. It’s a passion, it’s a love, it’s a lot like the wine industry, there’s a lot of collaboration going on.”
Haigh’s are among a handful of chocolatiers collaborating with Vanuatuan farmers under Stringer’s government-funded ‘Rehabilitating cocoa for improving livelihoods in the South Pacific’ project.
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