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Sweet is their story

Serenia Vilele
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"OUR goal while establishing this company was to revitalise the cocoa industry in Fiji, make farmers in Fiji have a better view of the potential there is in the cocoa market and improve their livelihoods."

Meet Tomohito Zukoshi, who with his family established the farming, processing and trading chocolate company known as Fijian Cacao and Adi Chocolate in Savusavu, Vanua Levu in 2005.

Cocoa was first introduced in Fiji by the British in the 1880s with sugar cane and peaked in production in the 1980s.

Tomohito and his wife Harumi Zukoshi are the founders of the pure, high-quality, dark chocolates of Fijiana Cacao and Adi Chocolate.

"My family migrated to Fiji in 2004 to start a Japanese restaurant in Savusavu. We started experimenting on cocoa beans which was then added to the restaurant cuisine," he said.

With limited knowledge on production, the expansion of the chocolate business was based on research on the internet.

"Afterwards we decided to close the restaurant and go into chocolate processing in 2005-06 and with limited materials, we started manually," said Tomohito.

Numerous setbacks did not deter the family's interest as they moved to Viti Levu for the setup of their factory in Nadi.

"With the demand coming in from hotels on Viti Levu, we opened up a tiny chocolate processing facility with support from the Fijian, Australian and New Zealand governments," said Tomohito.

"The chocolate industry is at a growing stage. There is competition coming in which is very good because of grades. The market is unlimited in size and we have to pave the right way for our future produce premium chocolate."

However, global competition, natural disasters, cocoa diseases and under-investment have led to the progressive long-term decline of the industry.

"After the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston, farmers were sceptical about cocoa farming," he said.

"Farmers are faced with the difficulties of the distance of cocoa farms from their houses because cocoa needs constant pruning and clearing. The other things are transportation, post-harvesting (fermenting and sun drying) processes and the market," he said.

"With all these, I keep encouraging farmers in supplying areas of Ra and Tailevu and in the North to start realising their potential, that they can do it," affirmed Tomohito.

The company's ethic of working with farmers has helped lift morale to another standard.

The company has also been assisting farmers with education, fermentation kits and many other initiatives to help improve their livelihoods and grow Fiji's overall cocoa industry.

"The possibilities of farmers becoming industrial suppliers of cocoa beans are high and that is what we have been trying to emphasise to the farmers."

"The value is higher and I would like to assure them that the market is available not only us but there are other chocolate companies coming up with the demand," he said.

Tomohito said increased local production would decrease chocolate and related imports as he had proven, milk being the only exception.

"There is a future in this industry and working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers, it can be revitalised as the raw material is really important."

Adi Chocolate supplies assorted chocolates to hotels and airport duty-free shops while exporting to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the US andto Scandinavia.

Manufactured flavours include plain coverture chocolates for hotel chefs, chilli, coconut, sesame, ginger, lime and refined kava flavoured strands.

"In a year, the total production is 17-20 tonnes, manufacturing 2000 to 3000 chocolate bars a day and more than 10,000 chocolate bars a week," said Tomohito.

"We have farmers from Rakiraki, Tailevu and the North and in a week we collect a total of 50-200 kilograms and now we need to collect more, basically 1-2 tonnes a week and we are buying dried beans at $6 for A grade and $5 for B grade."

"Cocoa farmers will have to keep planting, it might be hard work, but trust me, the market is here and the market needs cacao, follow the right process and liaise with the Ministry of Agriculture," he advised.

"Whoever has cocoa trees please feel free to contact us as we try to pave the way for revitalisation of cocoa and turn it into a source of livelihood."

For all their efforts, the company recently scooped the Best Small Business prize at the 2016 Prime Minister's International Business Awards showing just how lucrative and rewarding the cocoa industry truly is.

* Serenia Vilele is an employee of the MInistry of Agriculture.

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