Our farm supervisor, Joeli Nataki, comes from Nadi, on the West of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. Cocoa was not part of his family background; however, he has worked previously in the papaya export industry and has rapidly picked up the special skills needed to work with cocoa. He has proven particularly adept at the delicate art of grafting – growing one kind of tree on the roots of another. If you are interested, you can ask him to give you a demonstration! Joeli usually leads the tours of the farm, sharing his growing knowledge of cocoa and leavening the rich cocoa information with his own perspective on Pacific island farming systems and culture.
Our chocolate-maker, Sam Newton, comes from Naqere, some 30km from Savusavu on the Hibiscus Highway. However, he trained in Suva and has developed his career as a chef mainly on Viti Levu, where he has worked at some of Fiji's best-known hotels and restaurants. Joining KokoMana in the second half of 2020, during the dark days of the covid-closedown, Sam's positive, can-do attitude has helped to keep us cheerful and encouraged us to keep moving forward, developing new products and markets. He brings to chocolate making a professional caterer's attention to food safety and a total commitment to quality.
Our office manager and receptionist, Atelina Ranadi, has a background in accounting and is currently pursuing studies in tourism and human resources. She has rapidly become caught up in the spirit of chocolate and, as well as keeping our 'books' in order, she can help with chocolate-making and guide our visitors through the various stages of manufacture.
Our kitchen assistant and cleaner, Saras Wati, keeps the place immaculate, in line with international food safety guidelines and helps with the preparation of flavours and ingredients. Saras also has a 'green thumb', helping to ensure that our ornamental plants look at their very best.
Our senior nurseryman, Waisea, has tended the farm from the beginning – clearing the dense undergrowth, planting cover crops and trees to ‘capture’ the site and eventually establishing the orderly rows and terraces that you see now. Waisea has recently retired, to concentrate on his own farm and on community activities at Vunivesi, where he is an elder of the community. We thank Waisea for all that he has invested in KokoMana and we wish him all the very best in his retirement.
Our rodent management officers - Satu, Dua and Tiga - were dumped on KokoMana's driveway as tiny kittens, by someone who evidently failed to appreciate their professional potential. Polynesian rats, distributed around the islands by early seafarers, are a scourge of cocoa plantations in the South Pacific - but our highly trained team, vigilant (almost) around the clock, now keep their damage (mostly) in check. Satu and Dua, especially, are happy to cuddle with our younger visitors - and often accompany the farm tours (presumably to ensure that our guides give proper attention to rodent-related issues!)