The Future of Cacao in Hawaii

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In a recent West Hawaii Today article, the Kona Cacao Association was featured after a reporter attended a "How to Grow Cacao" seminar hosted by the KCA during the annual Big Island Chocolate Festival's symposium series. Here are a few points of interest:

  • With the demand for Hawaii-grown cacao on the rise worldwide, chocolatiers and growers near and far say the crop will play a major role in Hawaii’s future.
  • Island-grown cacao could be on its way to becoming the next Kona coffee, offering farmers the opportunity to produce a product not only in high demand, but capable of netting a high price.
  •  Island-grown cacao nets approximately $2 per wet bean pound, which is the stage before beans are fermented, dried and roasted.
  • Currently there are about 25 to 30 farmers producing cacao on Hawaii Island.
  • A survey of cacao growers early this year by University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Cacao Extension specialist H.C. Bittenbender received responses from 26 growers statewide, with 15 of those hailing from the Big Island.
  • Bittenbender’s survey found in 2012 farmers had planted about 46 acres statewide, but planned by the end of 2013 to increase acreage to 62 and by 2018 the acreage to 113 acres across the state of Hawaii.
  • According to Bittenbender’s data, the farms produced in dry bean about 30,500 pounds of dry beans. Hawaii County accounted for about 2,800 pounds of the production.
  • Cacao grows best between 600 and 800 feet elevation, though it can be grown between 300 and 1,200 feet. It prefers an area that receives about 60 inches of rain annually, unless irrigation is used.
  • Among the challenges faced producing cacao, are pests, particularly the Japanese rose beetle. To mitigate the pest issue, growers could plant a crop the bug enjoys more, or simply use plastic tree guards to wrap around the plant until it reaches about 3 feet tall.
  • Cacao, which comes in several varieties, is also a prolific plant that rarely provides the grower more than a two-month hiatus between harvests.

Farsheed Bonakdar, president of the Kona Cacao Association and owner of The Cocao Outlet said,  “There’s a huge demand for Hawaii chocolate — even Jacques Torres came and saw the beans and said we have really something great going on here.". “If we can get farmers to be consistently grow and produce really good crops then we do have something that everyone is going to want.“It’s really the crop of the future for Hawaii. I see that very, very clearly and more and more people are getting into growing now.”

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