Anne, with the first cocoa pods that we found, on a hill-side above Savusavu Bay
Richard, setting up a makeshift cocoa nursery, next to a stream on the farm
The aftermath of Cyclone Winston's visit in 2016
KokoMana is the creation of two people who invested most of their working lives in agricultural research-for-development around the world – in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific islands.
Anne, who set up the chocolate-making side of the business, hails from the North of England – where the great Quaker chocolate-makers – Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury – first promoted the wider consumption of cocoa and chocolate (as an alternative to the pervasive habit of gin-drinking, which was regarded as a major social vice at the time). Anne had always loved chocolate and, having written compellingly about fine cocoa and single-origin chocolate as a promising source of sustainable livelihoods in the Pacific Islands, she leapt at the opportunity to try it out for herself. After training with the Ecole Chocolat in California and gaining hands-on experience in a cocoa-and-chocolate enterprise in Mindo, Ecuador, she was ready to ‘learn by doing’, here in Fiji.
Richard, who established the farm, grew up loving cocoa during his childhood in West Africa. This was not for the chocolate (which was made in far-away Europe and scarcely made it back to the tropics, in those days before reliable cold chains and widespread refrigeration) but rather because he was fascinated by all the insects, birds, fish and other creatures that you could find in a cocoa forest in eastern Nigeria. At that time the giant rainforest trees were left to provide a canopy of shade and the cocoa planted beneath. Richard’s career as an agricultural researcher gave him experience of various other approaches to sustainable production in many other crops – but he always reserved a special place in his heart for cocoa... and for the biodiversity that can co-exist with cocoa in a well-managed agro-forestry system.
After several years of working on agricultural development projects in Suva, it was largely chance that brought us to Savusavu, initially for work… but, it was another case of ‘love at first sight’. We quickly found signs of abandoned cocoa plantations in the forests around Savusavu and along the Hibiscus Highway to the Natewa Peninsula. A small one-hectare plot at Daku attracted our attention for its fertile soil and year-round water supply. Moreover, because it was abandoned cultivation, rather than natural forest, we could feel good about restoring it. We started planting cocoa in 2013 (along with leguminous shade trees and various companion crops like bananas and papaya) – dashing over from our ‘day jobs’, in Suva and then in Canberra, to tend the cocoa and fight back the weeds.
The first 200 or so trees were just coming into production, early in 2016, when the farm was hit with the full force of Cyclone Winston – a Category 5 storm, the strongest ever to make land-fall in the South Pacific. Most of the cocoa was blown flat – and then tons of shade trees fell on top of the cocoa. However, with the help of a sturdy team of helpers from Vunivesi village, we managed to stand most of the cocoa trees up again, prune them back and set them growing again. A year or two later, you would scarcely have known they had suffered such a setback. But then, at the end of 2020, another Category 5 storm, TC Yasa, visited the farm... and the whole cycle began again.
By the middle of 2021, our mature trees are coming into full production again and with some re-planting, we are close to reaching our target of having 500 cocoa trees on the KokoMana farm - along with some eighty or so other useful species of trees and shrubs in an agroforestry setting.
Below, the farm in 2019, fully established as a productive agro-forest