My last day in Malaysia and Chow Boi has arranged a really interesting trip for me to visit a cocoa farm and meet some interesting industry folk.
We climbed out of Kuala Lumpur – into the Titiwangsa Mountains, home to the Genting Highland resorts. This is a very beautiful drive - wonderful forest in these hills, and cool. We meet up with a whole group of cocoa industry movers and shakers; they are all good friends and associates and have been involved in cocoa for many years.
We head off to a small town and meet Kou – a farmer who is also a trader. We meet him in his ‘shop’ full of cocoa bean sacks, and then head off to see his farm – and end up in a beautiful valley – with forest on the upper slopes, and cocoa and palm oil at the base of the valley. Kou’s cocoa farm is exemplary – he has been farming here since the mid 80s and the trees are extremely well managed and cared for. He can get 3000kg from a hectare through good management – including grafting, pruning, spraying against disease, and good hygiene. He is an innovative and intuitive farmer – taking on ideas from experts and then developing them further to work for him.
Our talk that day was mainly about this – the last death throws of the cocoa industry in Malaysia. The Malaysian Cocoa Board claims that the annual production is 20,000ha, but no-one I met that day could identify where that production came from. Cocoa is disappearing fast, being replaced mainly by oil palm, but also rubber. The talk was about resisting being sentimental about this, but the need to look to the future and the industry’s need to focus elsewhere on securing future cocoa supplies. Hence the industry’s focus on work with small holders in Indonesia, and also on the new ‘wild east’ of cocoa production – Vietnam and the Phillipines.