May 15, 2021 Last Updated 6:06 PM, May 14, 2021

From tree to bar to table

  • May 15, 2021
  • Published in March

Kokomana is a small artisan ‘tree-to-bar’ chocolate maker and social enterprise run by Richard and Anne Markham in Savusavu, northern Fiji.

The operation produces about 100 bars of high-quality chocolate bars—almost entirely by hand—each week, using cocoa beans from communities, particularly around Natewa Bay (including from Ana and Manoa Raika of Naweni, who have been awarded at Paris’ Salon Du Chocolat). Kokomana also runs tours of its operations and grows its own beans.

The Markhams and their team are taking an agroforestry approach to their crop.

“We're very concerned about the impact of agricultural production especially cash crops on the environment,” Richard says. “It's a fragile environment here, and every time there’s a boom in production of, whether it's dalo or ginger or vanilla or kava, communities tend to go out and find nice old growth forests with fertile soil and cut it down, and you get one cycle of production and then the topsoil is washed away, it pollutes the reef and so on.”

“You can't grow rice or sugar in an agroforestry system but many of these high value crops, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, even kava itself, grow really (well) in this kind of agroforestry system. It reduces dependence on one commodity, if everybody grows kava, then the price collapses, if everybody grows vanilla, the price at the moment is pretty buoyant but it will collapse as well, you know, we say that the price of vanilla at the moment is between F$4,000 a kilo but it will collapse. Once Madagascar comes back into production, it will collapse back down to $50 a kilo. So, what this does from a business point of view, you grow different things, you have a bit of a safety net.”

“When we're managing the farm, there's an awful lot of emphasis on conservation of soil fertility, recycling nutrients into the soil,” Richard says.

Kokomana also offers farm tours tailored to the interests of visitors; so while they will include demonstrations of chocolate processing, they can also include trees, birds, butterflies and insects.

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Fears of a Chinese military base at the Kiribati Government land near Savusavu on one of Fiji’s northern provinces have been laid to rest by the office of President Tenati Maamau.

“The [Kiribati] Government completely rules out the building of a military – land or sea base – on this land,” the President’s office said in response to email questions sent by Islands Business magazine.

“The focus of development in Natoavatu is for the agriculture sector only.”

The 5,460 acres of mainly hilly and jungle clad land on the west coastline of Savusavu harbor, on Fiji’s northern island of Vanua Levu was bought by the previous Kiribati government in 2014 for a report AUD$9.3 million from the Anglican Church.

Then President Anote Tong had wanted to explore “options of commercial, industrial and agricultural undertakings” on the land, which comes with a deep- water sea front.

Fish canning was a venture the Tong Government was seriously pursuing at that time, working with its own tuna fishing company in Tarawa as well as with the Fiji Government owned cannery, PAFCO.

The deal fell through when Tong completed his maximum allowed term as President in 2016, and was succeeded by the government of President Maamau.

When President Maamau confirmed last week in Tarawa that his government was working with China on the development of its land in Fiji, it raised speculation that Beijing would develop the land and could possibly use it as a military base.

This is not so, was the response of the office of the President of Kiribati when Islands Business emailed questions to Tarawa early this week.

“The assistance from the Chinese is being sought on the finalisation of the plan, in particular to provide advice on the agricultural activities being proposed for the land.

“They will not be directly involved in the development or any activity.

“The Chinese role as mentioned in the interview is to provide technical assistance and advice that will assist in finalising the Natoavatu plan.

“The focus of the Natoavatu plan is to develop the land through agricultural investments.”  

The President’s office did not specify the type of agricultural investments its planning in Natoavatu, except to say that it would produce agricultural produce for Kiribati.

It adds that agricultural work will start as soon as the plan is ready.

On the future of the 300 or so local families that currently reside on part of Natoavatu, the office of President Maamau said:

“The President refers to consultations with those residing on the land to assist to look after it.”

Asked whether the involvement of China in preparing the agricultural plan for Natoavatu was “payback” for all that China had invested in Kiribati since Maamau switched the country’s allegiance to China from Taiwan in September 2019, the office said:

“The purpose is to utilise the vast experience of China in the agriculture sector to guide the finalisation of our plan so that it is sound and implementable.

“The Kiribati relation with China is based on mutual respect and trust. All grants that have been provided are all done in a transparent manner.”

Police probe 'revenge rape'

By Anish Chand

A woman in Savusavu has paid a huge price for the alleged action of her husband.

Police are now actively investigating the case where a man raped the woman to punish her husband.

The incident is related to marijuana planting in the area.

It is believed that the rape suspect, who is known to police committed the offence on the woman because her husband had stolen marijuana plants from a farm.

This happened last week.

The victim is believed to be in her early 20s and she had informed village elders of the offence and what was said to her by the perpetrator before he raped her.

We have sought comments from Police on the status of investigations.

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