A founder of an award-winning cacao company in Fiji says more should be done to revive the nation’s cocoa industry.
Formerly a real-estate agent, Arif Khan founded Cacao Fiji in the lush hills of Dreketi because he “saw an opportunity to market the industry.”
“Cocoa was [once] a thriving business in Fiji where we had thousands of farmers and we were exporting close to 500 metric tonnes. Then all of a sudden, the industry collapsed,” he noted.
That collapse occurred in the 1980s as world prices increased and Fiji suffered the consequences of the 1987 coup.
Cacao Fiji’s Cocoa Acceleration Programme might be the key to revival, with its aim to plant 50,000 cocoa seedlings in 2022 throughout Fiji.
“We partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture (Fiji) late last year to increase [cocoa] supply, by supplying seedlings to active farmers.”
He said while the programme was well received, there is a need to keep on promoting it to meet what he calls the “very high” demand for Fiji cocoa.
“We are looking for a lot of local farmers,” he told Islands Business. “We need 1000 cocoa farmers. If cocoa farmers are interested, they are welcome to contact us so we can be of assistance.”
He called on Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture and non-profit organisations to “realise the potential of cocoa farming, and the impact it has on farmers’ lives.”
“While we are increasing cocoa [production], we are also impacting farmers in the rural areas… impacting their income and providing jobs,” said Khan.
He believes that impact has been largely ignored. “We have placed so much emphasis on introducing industrial hemp, but I think we are overlooking some of the gems and the gold we have in cocoa farming and other emerging trends.”
Gold is what Cacao Fiji took home in July – winning the first Pacific Cup at the Pacific Cacao Awards in New Zealand.
“It’s a very big award!”, he said. “We’ve been very consistent with producing award-winning cocoa beans.”
Since 2015, Cacao Fiji and smallholder farmers in Dreketi, Rakiraki and Tailevu have secured a growing customer base worldwide.
Ocho Chocolate, one of their New Zealand clients, was commended for their bar – Fiji Cacao 75% – at the London Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2020.
Cacao Fiji also supports other local businesses like Vanua Chocolate, which sells bars, cakes, brownies and drinks made with Cacao Fiji-sourced beans from its cafe in Nadi and other outlets.
Khan said: “It [the awards] hasn’t really changed the way I manage the business because we are still very upbeat on identifying new farmers and increasing supply.”
Khan encourages Pacific entrepreneurs to take part in internationally recognised awards, saying they “create brand awareness”.
“Whether it’s coffee or vanilla or any other products, they should take part in awards.”
He suggests local producers, “focus on producing award-winning products which will increase global demand and look at case studies of how other companies are faring well in terms of competing internationally.”
Khan says Cacao Fiji will venture into vanilla and coffee exports in the near future. For now, their focus is marketing their Fijian-grown cocoa as a “fine product”.