What happened to Samoan cocoa?

Howard & Hanna Frederick
03/08/12 12:06:16AM
10 posts

Hello everyone: I've been doing research into Samoan chocolate. Twenty years ago it had one of the best reputations in the world with most of its crop being classified as "fine and flavour" (top ICCO category). Today, despite having 5000 acres of fine cocoa, Samoa has only a (very strong) domestic market and a (very small) export to New Zealand (Samoans). I'm working on a plan to revive Samoa's chocolate industry with a group of NGOs and private sector. One of the things I'm researching is what led to Samoa's decline. I've come up with the following narrative, and I'd appreciate if anyone can add or change anything to it. Kind regards, Howard Frederick Mamor Chocolates in Melbourne Australia

  • The mid-seventies were Samoas peak period in terms of cocoa earnings. Cocoa exports had been declining from the early 1960s to 1972, but from 1972-1977 world cocoa prices septupled, and average receipts were US$5.83 million per year. Exports peaked in 1977 at a level that was never to be achieved again. The problem was that, although the industry had been prospering, yield had been declining from the 1960s due to the widespread adoption of poor planting material. Thus cocoa export values declined during the early 1980s due to the triple effect of falls in prices, decline in quality, and decline in yields.
  • But a recovery of sorts began in 1983 after a cocoa rehabilitation program in the 1970s and early 1980s that entailed replanting areas with high-yielding, more disease-resistant but less flavourful Amelonado varieties. The volume of cocoa bean exports almost trebled and their unit value almost doubled, remaining above US$1 million until 1987. For the remainder of the decade, however, falling world prices led to a rapid decline in cocoa export values that were only US$0.26 million in 1989.
  • The decline to this date had nothing to do with cyclones. Samoas planting of amelonado substantial premium traditionally earned by Samoan cocoa in world markets when Trinitario cocoa dominated, making it eligible for sale as 'fine or flavour' cocoa, had disappeared. Samoan beans were being sold at an appreciable discount by 1982-83 and quality continued to deteriorate throughout the 1980s due to poor fermentation, drying and storage practices, and increased plantings of the lower-value Amelonado cocoa varieties.
  • The death blow came when devastating natural and biological disasters destroyed the industry. These included Cyclone Ofa in February 1990 and Cyclone Val in December 1991, the latter being the most devastating cyclone to hit the country in a century.
  • Despite aid-funded efforts in the 1980s to rehabilitate cocoa, chronic problems evident in previous decades persisted into the final decade in these industries. The devastating effects of Cyclones Ofa and Val, and the drought that followed Cyclone Ofa, compounded the negative impact of an extended period of low world prices and virtually destroyed the cocoa industry from 1990 to 2000.
  • Tree losses of 20-30% were heavy due to the long duration of the cyclones and the long exposure to salt spray. Trees older than 10 years were the most affected. After virtually no exports to 1996, cocoa export values at least recovered to US$44,000 in 1996, but exports remained at negligible levels throughout the decade. [1]

[1] Euan Fleming and Anita Blowes, Export Performance in South Pacific Countries Marginally Endowed with Natural Resources: Samoa and Tonga, 1960 to 1999, University of New England, Graduate School of Agricultural and Resource Economics & School of Economics, No. 2003-8 August 2003, Working Paper Series in Agricultural and Resource Economics. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/12942/1/wp030008.pdf

updated by @howard-hanna-frederick: 04/15/15 12:44:14AM
Clay Gordon
03/08/12 08:35:42AM
1,680 posts

Howard -

Do you know what fine flavor varieties were planted on the island prior to their being replaced by the Amelonado strains you mention?

clay - http://www.thechocolatelife.com/clay/
Howard & Hanna Frederick
03/08/12 04:31:42PM
10 posts

Yes, they were Criollo and Trinitario. And there is still heaps of Trinitario. What is you opinion of Amelonado? I know it is more disease-resistant, but disease resistance can be greatly aided by proper "sanitary pruning" See e.g. http://aciar.gov.au/system/files/node/9136/MN131%20full%20text.pdf What would one recommend in terms of over time replacing the Amelonado with Trinitario? Regards.

03/08/12 09:36:26PM
205 posts

Very interesting read, thanks for posting.

Howard & Hanna Frederick
03/09/12 05:35:03AM
10 posts

Here's something else we're trying to figure out . . .

In its heyday, Samoan cocoa enjoyed a high reputation in the world of chocolate making because of reputedly having the highest level of cocoa butter in the world. Why would that be?

Samoas fine chocolate quality may be due to the unique soil composition of Samoas cocoa growing areas. On the northwest rain-shadowed coast of both islands (see attachment), trees seemingly grow out of rocks. Soil is buried deeply in the fissures. Almost no mechanization is possible, even walking is difficult. Land is very difficult to clear, however, once established, cocoa trees on the lava flow thrive on the weed-free environment, where their own leaves cover the earth.

According to studies, Samoan soils are unbalanced in respect to nutrients; calcium is too high or potassium is too low for optimal crop yields. Potassium-deficient plants are more susceptible to certain diseases. Potassium-rich treatments could include seaweed or compost rich in decayed banana peels. Wood ash has high potassium content, but should be composted first as it is in a highly soluble form. It is possible that potassium deficiency has led the plant to exude a higher than usual cocoa fat content.

04/24/12 02:43:45PM
1 posts


wonderful flavor of criollo variety is what I remember from the early 70's. The islands was littered with cacao plants, every village had tree's as tall as 12 feet. Conditions are great to regrowth of this variety and find your research helpful.


04/30/12 06:20:45PM
94 posts


I was approached 2 years ago by a man who said he was representing some cocoa farmers in Samoa. He talked a long talk and was slicker than seal fat. Long story short it was a scam. Now the good people at the farm in Samoa were nice enough but the man who was representing them and was supposedly setting up the NGO was a con artist who had bilked other industries in Samoa out of money. I have his name and a long list of lawsuits filed against him if interested.

The beans he sent me were either completely moldy or not fermented at all.

Benjamin Harding
06/25/14 05:06:14PM
4 posts


I live in Samoa and dabble in development work here.(started as a Peac CorpsVolunteer, looking to start my own NGO one of these days.) Also a (very) amatuer chocoloate maker. I'd like to know this guy's name if you don't mind sharing, so I can steer clear.



03/21/17 12:50:22AM
22 posts

Thanks to my beautiful sister, D, I have two quality blocks of koko samoa standing on my kitchen table. I mean REAL Samoan koko! On my kitchen table. I feel like throwing a party because I haven't had Samoan koko since...I can't even remember the last time, and now it's right HERE.


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