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Masterclass motivates participants to take up cocoa value-adding

Phama
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

EVERY harvesting season, Hagar Maesite'e makes a long and arduous journey on foot to the next village to sell wet cocoa beans. Carrying at least 50 kilograms of wet beans, the journey spans at least 15 kilometres and takes an entire day across rough and rugged terrain.

It's hard going for Hagar and her family, yet this is a struggle they've endured for years — one that puts food on the table and caters for education expenses among the family's other priorities.

Last week, Hagar and her husband, Ellison Maesite'e travelled from Small Malaita to Aretakiki Village outside of Honiara in the Solomon Islands to attend a cocoa masterclass, a training initiative organised by the Australia and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program*.

Hagar is one of eight women who participated in the training; with four of them being recipients of building materials from PHAMA for a solar dryer and storage shed, as well as moisture meters.

"Through this training, I have learnt to process cocoa beans. I have learnt to ferment and dry cocoa beans. I have also learnt how to construct a solar dryer and maintain it, so I now have the skills to go into value-adding," she says.

For Hagar, the newly acquired skills mean she can now earn more money for the cocoa she produces. It also means the heavy load of beans she regularly carries to the next village reduces significantly once she transitions from selling wet cocoa beans to dried cocoa beans.

Hagar is also now well placed to empower and build the capacity of other women in her community in Small Malaita through sharing the knowledge and skills acquired from the training.

What is the cocoa masterclass

Although primarily focused on showing participants how to construct a solar dryer, the cocoa masterclass encompasses an integrated approach to producing cocoa for the niche or boutique market. Participants are trained to manage their farms and advised about best farm practices; in addition to learning about processing cocoa; from harvesting, fermenting and drying to the storage of dried cocoa beans.

Agriculture consultants Moses Pelomo and Robert Waisu were engaged by PHAMA to deliver the second masterclass. Pelomo says the practical component of this masterclass makes it a better learning initiative.

"Some participants came with their carpenters, so we explained to them the principles of solar drying and showed them how to build it. We taught them to process cocoa; what to do when the beans are in fermentation stage and how to dry it properly. We taught them ways to manipulate the dryer using the inlet at the bottom and outlet to control the temperature and humidity inside the dryer. We also trained them about what to look out for in the weather because that affects what's happening inside the solar dryer.

"Some of the things we taught are new to most of them. We can teach them the skills but if we can't show them what to do, the practicalities of what we're trying to teach is pointless," he said.

Partnerships that make a difference

PHAMA's support of this activity is aligned with its objectives to promote value-adding ventures and managing issues associated with maintaining and improving existing trade. In the case of the Solomon Islands' cocoa industry, the smoke taint in cocoa beans meant cocoa producers could not tap into the niche cocoa market and only supplied the bulk market which offers a lower price for cocoa compared to the niche market.








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