Cocoa Plant Country in Far North Queensland

Cocoa Plant Country in Far North Queensland

Almost 25 years ago the first steps were taken towards Australia’s first and only integrated cocoa industry, we look back at the where the industry started and where it is now.

Chocolate has deep cultural roots in many countries and now its production is growing on Australian shores. For over 20 years, farmers have taken on the challenge of growing cocoa in Far North Queensland—with a growing success in return.

Where does cocoa grow?

One thing Australia doesn’t have is the cheap labour available in Africa’s Ivory Coast and Ghana, where more than 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa is produced. Cocoa is also grown in other regions of the world including South and Central America, the Caribbean and now Australia added to the list as a minor player.

The cocoa industry realised

It needed options that weren’t at the whim of west Africa’s volatile economic conditions. Amid the troubling backdrop of a chocolate deficit, growing it locally makes sense.

In a stroke of good luck, tropical North Queensland is among only a handful of locations around the world suited to growing cocoa. Add to that, the fact Aussie farmers have a long tradition of producing high quality milk and sugar, and cocoa becomes the missing link in bean-to-bar production.

Australian grown cocoa: how it started

Once Australia was seen as a viable growing location, eight years of research went into the viability of a local cocoa industry, including hybrid yield evaluation trials across the country, investigations into clonal introductions, harvesting systems analysis and economic modelling.

Spearheaded by Cadbury Australia, a consortium called the Northern Australia Cocoa Development Alliance brought together government and horticulturists from Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, with a lot of money poured into feasibility studies. The results were unanimous: cocoa grows best in Far North Queensland in the region bordering the Daintree Rainforest.

Cocoa pods growing on trees on a cocoa farm Cadbury decided the economics of an Australian cocoa industry suited family farming done on a co-op model rather than as a corporate enterprise.

Nonetheless, the company’s research director at the time, Barry Kitchen, was among many who knew the Australian industry needed options that weren’t at the whim of West Africa’s volatile economic conditions.

“In Ghana there are about a million cocoa farmers who live day by day picking pods and turning them into beans. They don’t make a lot of money because they sell it as a commercial product to the government,” Barry says.

“Instead, if we could prove it would work, Cadbury was happy to leave it as a legacy for the right people to pick it up and take it forward.”

As it turned out, Barry—after retiring from Cadbury—along with a few enthusiastic investors and a team of growers were exactly the right people to have a go.

Australian grown cocoa: the industry now

AgriFutures has since funded the Australian Cocoa Strategic RD&E Plan (2022-2027) which offers an opportunity for the emerging industry to grow. AgriFutures Australia Manager Emerging Industries, Laura Skipworth said in 2022 when the initiative was launched that the time was right.

“With Australia importing $699.3 million of cocoa and cocoa preparations in 2020, there is potential for cocoa production in Australia to increase over the coming years to replace some of the imported product with Australian product,” she said.

“We know that Australian cocoa growers cannot compete on price against small hold farmers from developing countries, so the industry relies on selling high quality cocoa beans into premium, niche markets.”

With these promising sentiments, the strategy also revealed the potential growth for the Australian cocoa industry to 2030. The industry has already shown a steady compound growth of 4.3 per cent over the last ten years and in 2021 it was estimated the potential for production in Australia grow to a value of $15-20 million by 2030.

The cocoa industry has grown in Australia in a couple of decades but still has plenty of room for positive movement. With many Far North Queensland farms offering tours and locally made chocolate products, the tourism associated with chocolate will help it grow in Australia.

Originally authored by Irinia Cavalliotis, updated April 2024

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  1. David

    4 April

    Where are you in North Queensland

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