Farmers become first Chocolate makers in Solomon Islands
A group of cocoa farmers in Solomon Islands is undergoing a training programme to become the first chocolate makers in the country.
A group of cocoa farmers in Solomon Islands are undergoing a training programme to become the first Chocolate makers in the country.
The training in Vanuatu and now Solomon Islands, was conducted by the co-founders of Hawaii based Madre chocolate, Nat Bletter and David Elliot.
Nat Bletter spoke to Indira Moala.
NAT BLETTER: It's really an amazing thing to see the farmers taste their chocolate for the first time. In several communities we even made chocolate using very simple local tools like a kava grinder, a meat grinder and a coffee grinder to make a chocolate bar and a hot chocolate drink for them so they can start their own chocolate making business with very simple equipment.
INDIRA MOALA: In terms of the training programme and you teaching them the process of making chocolate, can you explain exactly what kind of skills they use in the training?
NB: We talk about fermentation which is really the most important part of the entire part of the tree-to-bar chocolate making process. We talked about drying because there is a lot of smoke drying that happens in Melanesia which is not always so desirable. We are trying to discuss how to use a solar dryer instead of a smoke dryer. We talked about pruning and grafting and varietal selection. That was all about what the farmer was doing up to this point.
IM: So how many farmers are involved in your programme?
NB: There were 34 farmers or cacao processors in this programme and then in Vanuatu we worked with three main communities and there's probably 30 or so farmers spread across those communities.
IM: And are they hopeful that this might be able to open up a unique market of locally grown and home-made chocolate for them?
NB: Yeah. I could see the gears spinning in their heads when we talked about it. We really impressed added value on them. That the further along they take it the more money they will get for their efforts. If they can ferment and dry it to fine cocoa that they can export to us and other chocolate makers that's great. That's already a step up but if they can process it into cacao fruit popsicles that are made or chocolate drinks to replace their milo or the chocolate bananas even better for them. Many of them said yeah I'm not going to drink milo anymore, I am going to drink my own chocolate.
IM: In terms of the machines and equipment needed to make chocolate, so your training programme has enabled them to be able to use simple tools so it's not going to be an expensive process?
NB: Yeah, exactly. We call it open-sourcing chocolate making. You can do it with just a basic motar and pestle or the traditional sort of stone rolling pin. The next step up you can use a meat grinder or a kava grinder which are pervasive in Vanuatu, the origin of kava. Something that almost everyone has already so you can just pass it through there. It's not going to be super smooth, fine, like european-style chocolate but it still tastes really good. Even a lot of chocolate makers abroad are selling these what are called rustic, coarse, stone-ground bars so they can make that just as easily here.
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