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Guadalcanal, Isabel farmers’ first shipment of premium cocoa to United Kingdom

A milestone achievement for 50 farmer groups and consolidators across Guadalcanal and Isabel provinces as they sent a first shipment of premium cocoa to chocolatiers in the United Kingdom (UK) today.

A consignment of 150 bags of premium sun-dried cocoa beans destined for the chocolate makers in the UK.

James Kana, second left and Australian High Commissioner Dr Lachlan Strahan flanked by Guadalcanal Cocoa producer, left, and Isabel Cocoa Producer, far right. Photo: Jared Koli

The consignment was shipped under the Less Than a Container Load (LCL) Access to Markets project, piloted by local agribusiness entrepreneur James Kana of Ueniusu’unu Agribusiness Group.

The initiative, funded by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand through the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus Program (PHAMA Plus) under its Export Business Recovery Initiative (EBRI) Grant, allows local cocoa growers and consolidators to share the costs of freight and logistics which had increased as a result of COVID-19.

It will achieve this through the use of a digital platform where exporters can share information as well as the space and costs of shipping containers for export.

Currently, there is no option to access a Less-than-Container-Load (LCL) freight consolidation system in the Solomon Islands or other freight-sharing facility in the Solomon Islands.

PHAMA Plus in a statement says, for the country’s logistics sector, freight forwarders and agents, COVID 19 has exacerbated the usually low and unpredictable demand for break-bulk (alternative to LCL) freight options or palletising of consignments, which are labour intensive and time-consuming. This represents a significant constraint to smaller and medium-sized exporters, making certain export and business opportunities unviable.

Speaking during a ceremony at Solomon Ports today, Mr Kana says the project is a culmination of hard work that everyone has contributed over the last four years to seek out solutions to overcome the barriers to export markets.

“This is by far the most incredible and rewarding journey I took with farmers and partners in finally getting the first container on its maiden journey to the UK.

“We’ve shipped over 150 bags of premium sun-dried cocoa beans to the UK. From here the beans will be travelling on to Malaysia, then it takes another boat to the UK. These beans will be going out to two buyers in the UK, Firetree and Pump Street,” Mr Kana said.

Mr Kana thanked the Australia government for their support towards the initial ideation stages of LCL program, and New Zealand Government for supporting the PHAMA Plus program.

Local Entrepreneur James Kana

PHAMA Plus Solomon Islands Senior National Facilitator Peter Ramohia says with the success of this project, they can further develop to apply to other commodities in the country.

“It is actually an achievement, even though we come through ups and downs, our eyes are set on this day, and I’d like to add here, with the success of this project we can actually develop it further to apply to other commodities that we have. That is something that we can continue work on it,” Ramohia says.

Australian High Commissioner Dr Lachlan Strahan says they are glad to provide support for the project. He said the Solomon Islands Government through its different arms should be providing the right framework to allow this kind of project.

PHAMA Plus stated, through sharing the cost of using an integrated LCL system and storage facility, smallholder growers and consolidators will be able to have access to otherwise inaccessible export markets.

The collaborative nature of the integrated LCL system makes it possible for each stakeholder to buy-in and be able to see the value of what they are investing in. It makes the freight cost of exports proportionate to the volumes being traded and available from smallholder growers and consolidators.

PHAMA Plus piloted the EBRI in the Solomon Islands as a response to the significant strains brought about by COVID-19 on Pacific Island supply chains and for low-income producers and workers within them. COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on the utilisation of shipping containers at the main port.

“Currently, for every five containers which arrive with imports, only one container is exported. This means that four containers are ‘empties’ and sitting idle in the port area or they are loaded back on the ship with no value being gained from the unutilised container space. This ratio will get worse as major exports have been hit-hardest. Overall, it represents a missed opportunity, is a waste of money and comes at a high environmental cost.

“The International Centre for Development Partnerships funded the development of the digital platform. Other partners in the project include Solomon Ports, Express Freight Management (EFM), Earth Water People and Common Code,” PHAMA Plus stated.

Meanwhile, SIBC understands one of Solomon Islands government’s key policy outcomes to revive the Commodities Export Marketing Authority (CEMA) is to support commodity marketing export.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said export marketing centers for local commodities is a vital link to growing rural sector.

The CEMA revitalisation and recapitalisation strategy is a seven year strategy with a total capital investment of $SBD77 million injected from the national Government.

By Jared Koli

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