What is the potential of the cocoa producing scene in the Solomon Islands today?
Watching a group of teenagers drinking chocolate milk shakes today got my mind thinking about the potential for cocoa production and sales in the Solomon Islands, given I have always been of the belief that cocoa is a major revenue earner and represents the second major agricultural export for the country.
Likewise, I have always assumed that 20 percent of Solomon Island families are involved in cocoa production and much of the income from cocoa production goes back into rural communities.
In 2013, I recall the then Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, David Tome, launching a policy and saying the government would help increase the incomes of 20,000 cocoa growing households.
In 2013, it was then estimated the Solomon Islands produced 4,000- 6,000 metric-tonnes of cocoa annually but Minister Tome was of the belief his new strategy would help bring the amount to 20,000 over the next seven years.
Seven years on in 2020 did that increase in cocoa production eventuate and are families now better off with increased incomes from cocoa sales?
I put the question to one or two friends when I returned home this afternoon and they told me many cocoa producers at home are having difficulty in finding markets to take their cocoa crops and the situation for cocoa producers is worrying too many.
I do know the world demand for cocoa slumped towards the end of last year, but forecasts are said to be good for 2020. In particular the demand for chocolate has exploded in recent times in China and the demand is not likely to slacken off.
Given the expected global demand for cocoa is looking positive, and if what I have been told today about cocoa producers at home struggling to find export markets, will the Solomon Islands government look into the situation to boost cocoa sales and thereby help the many producers that need income for themselves and for the overall development of their communities.
In 2013, the then AusAid funded cocoa adviser to the SIG reported that the cocoa trees in the Solomon Islands were only producing 25 per cent of their yield potential.
He also reputedly told the government that, many of the 23 million cocoa trees in the country were more than 30 years old ( in 2013) They were then neglected, over-grown and were not producing their yield potential of 23 million kilograms of dry beans per year. In addition, cocoa farmers lacked basic management skills and were relying on poor material.
The cocoa adviser thought the then barriers to increasing production could easily be addressed and the focus of the strategy would be rehabilitating cocoa crops, planting improved crop varieties with higher yields and developing better market linkages, so that farmers could better manage and benefiting from their cocoa.
Did such optimistic forecasts materialize and what is the state of the cocoa trade and export potential of cocoa in the Solomon Islands today?