As a boy, Kingstan Kamuri spent many days traversing the ruins of old plantations along the coast of the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. Thanks to his father’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors, Kamuri developed a passion for hunting, trekking, and exploring the remains of what were once great farming estates in Abau.
“I grew up seeing most of the ruins and the remains of a lost thriving agricultural era in our country’s history. The first cacao trees I saw were near Merani when I was about 10 years old. As a child my favourite pastime was gardening. Every time we travelled somewhere I would bring back an orchid, or a tree or wild plant as a souvenir and try to grow it in our garden at home,” Kamuri said.
But it was in his adult years that Kamuri learnt to appreciate the peace and tranquillity that rural living offered, and this eventually led to his keen interest in cocoa farming.
After returning from studying in Australia in 2009, Kamuri started a full-time job working in the Papua New Guinea health sector. Three years later, after gaining enough exposure and experience, he started his own pharmaceutical import and wholesale distribution company supplying medicine to Government Area Medical Stores and private hospitals around the country.
In 2015, Kamuri returned home to his family’s cacao plantation in Abau District, Central Province which had been left to grow wild since the 1940s.
“Our family had land in Abau that was sitting idle. After a few weekend trips up and down the highway with friends and family, I realised how peaceful life was out there from the stresses of the city. It also reignited my passion for gardening and my childhood dreams of one day trying to revive some of the old plantations that I’d grown up hearing inspiring stories about,” he said.
Those trips eventually led Kamuri to start his own commercial cocoa plantation and export business – Manabo Cocoalands Development Limited. When he first started, there was a lot of scepticism about his venture. Historically in Abau, cocoa has always been regarded as a failed crop by many locals in the greater Cloudy Bay area.
“Given the history of the cacao tree in the area, a lot of the locals were telling me that the project was going to fail. I established the farm in 2015 when PNG Cocoa and Coconut Industry at the time had set up a cocoa bud wood garden at Manabo Station next to us,” Kamuri said.
“I was invited by Mr James Sarufa who was looking after the program at the time to go visit the bud wood garden. After seeing the trees flourish so well in James’s bud wood garden, this reinforced the idea for me to go and plant cocoa on a full commercial scale.”
Fast forward to 2019, the company was employing over 25 locals from the hinterlands between Central and Milne Bay Province to maintain over 80,000 cacao trees in the family plantation. By then, Kamuri had found a ready buyer located five hours away by road – Queen Emma Chocolate.
The company primarily supplies premium quality beans to the Queen Emma Chocolate factory which produces a range of cocoa and chocolate products for domestic and export markets. Despite a pandemic and the day-to-day challenges, Kamuri says his relationship with Queen Emma Chocolate has been fruitful.
“Queen Emma is our first local chocolate manufacturer trying to position Papua New Guinea cocoa in a well-established global chocolate and confectionary market whilst promoting our local farmers’ beans and offering the best competitive prices to encourage local production and consistency in quality,” Kamuri added.
The Australia and New Zealand supported Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus Program (PHAMA Plus) has partnered with Queen Emma Chocolate to create and grow export markets for cocoa products and help make a difference for cocoa-growing households in rural Papua New Guinea. This includes activities such as participation at international events and installing mini chocolate processing equipment to improve the quality of cocoa beans and products.
PHAMA Plus has also supported Queen Emma to send cocoa samples to chocolatiers in New Zealand as part of efforts to strengthen market linkages that create exposure for PNG cocoa and farmers like Kamuri.
In early 2023, Queen Emma Chocolate sent its first shipment of fine cocoa butter and powder to New Zealand-based cacao buyer and master chocolatier Oonagh Browne. The shipment also included 750kg of cocoa beans from Kamuri’s farm through his micro lot export licence.
With support from PHAMA Plus, Oonagh, through her company ‘The Cocoa Ambassador,’ has been working with Papua New Guinea cocoa growing communities as Queen Emma Chocolate’s brand ambassador, promoting fine Papua New Guinea cocoa in New Zealand and beyond.
“We have a few collaborative plans in the pipeline with The Cocoa Ambassador. It has been a good start for pricing as well as more importantly good exposure for our beans,” Kamuri said.
“The exposure has also created the demand for agri-tourism. We have been receiving many requests from New Zealand and Australian visitors to come and visit the plantation and surrounding areas. We already had a couple of visitors last year,” he said.
As part of ensuring environment, climate, and resilience in cocoa farming, PHAMA Plus is also supporting Kamuri to obtain organic certification for his family plantation, giving Abau cocoa and Queen Emma Chocolate a competitive edge in the global cocoa market. Organic certification means that Abau cocoa beans are produced without any harmful chemicals, such as inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. This is an environmentally safe and sustainable approach to producing high-quality cocoa beans with a low carbon footprint. Upon the completion of this process, Manabo Cocoalands Development Limited will become the first organically certified cocoa plantation in Papua New Guinea.
“We are finding and establishing markets for Abau cocoa and want to capture more volume via community participation from our local farmers. The premium products manufactured under Queen Emma from our beans will be available to the global market,” Kamuri added.
“The people of Abau, particularly Cloudy Bay should be proud that their beans are now recognised as some of the best in the world’s specialty market and have already made it to some of the best chocolatiers in Europe and in New Zealand, more importantly, they have made it to our own home-grown Queen Emma Chocolate.”
Among the trees on what used to be old, idle plantations, Kingstan Kamuri stands tall. The boy who once played across those ruins is today a man who finds adventure in bringing the ruins back to life.