By Floris Niu – Koko (Cacao) is our Bloodline
As a farmer in the Pacific Islands, most of us are born into subsistence farming. That is how we lived and survived the ages on these lands, scattered precariously on the largest body of water on the planet- the Pacific Ocean. It is our home and as we are just tiny dots on it, we must find new ways to protect it.
So it is not surprising that I didn’t study Horticulture, yet I know my cacao trees…intimately. I speak to them and they respond to me in a way that my ancestors would have described as knowing, being and connecting with Mother Nature.
My relationship to our fanua/land and the elements within our planet runs deep and wide. I barely studied Chemistry yet I know what the soil needs most is a kind hand.
One does not need a degree to become a farmer, but one must have a degree of love, patience and resilience to face the elements when they threaten to dampen one’s efforts on the land.
Our cacao plantations in the Pacific have come through many ages; those of harsh colonial rule, civil and political unrest as well as thriving commerce. But with each generation be it fickle or stable, the cacao trees remain dancing with the breeze. They have evolved in variety and flavour and continue to surprise those who connect and bring out the best in their fruit.
My name is Floris Niu – a fourth generation small-holder cacao grower from Samoa. I was born in Tuana’i village on the northern side of Upolu island, where the biggest concentration of heritage and new plantations thrive. My school fees were paid with koko (cacao) money earned in the time of my farming parents, as it was for three generations before. During the worst crisis of my life, at 39, I returned home to find refuge on my ancestors’ Land.
Eight years later, I’m still slashing the grass with a simple machete, prune the trees myself and hand process every bean with my brother. The only tools I have added to my farming legacy are; a chainsaw, weed eater, ladder, vehicle and chocolate melanger. On approximately thirty acres of cacao, we produce three tonnes a year between just two people. Imagine what a staff of five or ten could achieve? But we do things organically, in our own sweet time.
Ms Sunshine Organic Farms Charitable Trust is more than a plantation that processes beans and produce limited edition tree-to-bar experiments. It has become the incubator to exchange many beautiful ideas with others; a meeting place, an escape, a place of learning and reflection…in the whimsical nature of all things cacao.
In 2020, we joined forces with some amazing New Zealand companies and organisations supporting Samoa’s national revival of cacao cultivation and commercial production. SPS Biota, Grow Asia Pacific, Whittaker’s Chocolate and Savaii Koko were brought together in a cocoa project supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade NZ. Coincidentally, I had been traversing the early challenges of cacao rehabilitation.
We had many conversations on my plantation, some of which has led to our collaboration on a project called- “Improved Livelihoods…”; and now the Pacific Cacao & Chocolate 2022 Show. This event highlights the significant and warm friendship Aotearoa has with the Pacific Islands, and we are proud to debut our event in Tamaki Makaurou.
On the 23rd of July, we hope to bring 1000 people to Mt Smart Stadium’s Eastern Lounge, to help us celebrate the Pacific’s unique history and contribution to chocolate crafted in NZ and Australia. The show’s timing is perfect for Samoa’s 60th Independence celebrations, and Aotearoa’s Matariki celebrations.
The Show is split into 2 live events on the same day; and a series of 2 webinars on separate dates. The Live events include the daytime tradeshow showcasing 27 exhibitors including 7 Pacific country participants. Then a VIP Cacao Awards in the evening will announce the winners of the show’s competitions.
The daytime event includes a series of exhibitor workshops, live competitions and country presentations to introduce the farms/farmers where NZ chocolatiers source their cacao beans. Cacao sensory experiences include tastings, indigenous chocolate demonstrations and interactive bean to bar chocolate making will keep our visitors inspired. Pacific beats, hot chocolate and a few surprises should keep everyone warm at both events.
The daytime event is family friendly and concessions are available for children and senior citizens. Limited tickets for both events are available online on eventbrite. **The VIP event is capped at 150 guests. For more information go to; www.pacificcacao.org.nz @pacificcacao @pacificcacaoandchocolate @mssunshinefarms @florisniu