Preparation under way for historic Pacific Chocolate Voyage


Next month, the Wellington Chocolate Factory (WCF) will make history by transporting one tonne of cocoa beans from Bougainville to Wellington using the double hull ocean going canoe <em>Uto ni Yalo</em>.<!--more-->

[caption id="attachment_7175" align="alignleft" width="138"]<a href=""><img class="size-full wp-image-7175" src="" alt="The vaka which will transport the Bougainville cocoa beans to Wellington." width="138" height="104" /></a> The vaka which will transport the Bougainville cocoa beans to Wellington.[/caption]

The event is the stuff of legend in New Zealand and Bougainville’s chocolate heritage. A testament to the efforts of WCF owners Gabe Davidson, Rochelle Harrision, Bougainville Cocoa Plantation owner James Rutana and International Development worker Sera Price. The occasion will be marked at the end by the production of a special bar of chocolate called the Bougainville Bar.

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage organisers partnered with Uto ni Yalo Trust (Formerly known as the Fiji Voyaging Society) to ship cocoa beans to New Zealand aboard the vaka moana or the double hulled ocean voyaging canoe.

Mr Davidson will fly to Fiji on July 20 and then sail to Bougainville arriving between July 31 and August 5. He will collect the cocoa beans from plantation owner James Rutana, and depart Bougainville aboard <em>Uto ni Yalo</em> on August 10 with a stopover in Vanuatu. The voyage is expected to arrive in Wellington around September 7, greeted with a customary welcome. Mr Rutana and some of the Bougainville cocoa farmers will fly to Wellington to witness the historic arrival.

But this incredible journey tracks back to 2014, when Ms Price, a friend of Mr Davidson, returned from working as a development officer in Bougainville, with a kilo of cocoa beans for Mr Davidson. He loved the outstanding quality of the cocoa beans. Several weeks later Mr Davidson flew to Bougainville to meet the farmer, ‘Mr Cocoa’ himself – James Rutana. Mr Rutana, a passionate cocoa farmer, had struggled to keep the cocoa plantation afloat for many years. It badly needed better drying and processing facilities. He was on the verge of quitting when the planets aligned.

Mr Davidson who owns an artisan chocolate factory said internationally based chocolatiers were searching for high quality beans to make into high end chocolate -- improving the production end would increase returns. Together they hatched an ambitious plan to raise funds to help Mr Rutana improve his production facilities to better his returns. WCF would launch a campaign on the New Zealand crowd funding site Kick starter to raise $36,000 toward better drying facilities in Bougainville and cover the costs of shipping cocoa beans to New Zealand, the kicker – getting the cocoa beans to Wellington by wind power.

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage was born. They aimed to source Pacific grown cocoa; encourage local farmers to grow highest quality crops and receive a premium for their crops; support Bougainville’s economy after the effects of a 10 year civil war; support home grown farmer ‘Mr Cocoa’ James Rutana; support the beans-to-bar chocolate supply chains and to promote wind power as an alternative shipping option. When the vaka arrives in Wellington they will have achieved their aims – and then some. Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I) introduced PNG Investment Trade Officer Ken Pep, who was an intern at the Auckland Office of PT&amp;I, to the Wellington Chocolate Factory and has been keeping in touch with the progress.

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