Makira Gold: Cacao to Chocolate

Makira Gold - an innovative and unique Cacao & Artisan Chocolate direct social enterprise using a new model that we are calling "farm to bean to bar"!

We start our story with our cacao farmers on the island of Makira, Solomon Islands.  They select and harvest ripe cacao pods, which we purchase as either pods or the raw cacao inside the pods (wet beans), then we ferment for 3 days and then sundry our pristine raw cacao for another 5 days.

Once dried, we ship it in hermetically sealed grainpro bags (to seal in the premium quality) on leaky boats across the Solomon Islands, export over the Pacific to our spare room in Brisbane, Australia.

Then in our small kitchen in our home in Brisbane's westside we roast our beans, then crack them in the thermomix, then winnow them to separate the husks from the nibs.  Then conch and refine our nibs for 2 days using a chocolate grinder or melangeur into an amazingly, velvet and rich dark chocolate.

Then we age the untempered chocolate to further develop the flavours of our wonderful chocolate. This is the journey from farm to bean to bar for Makira Gold chocolate.

Who are we
We are Brian Atkin and Ronnie Maxwell, first cousins.
Brian is half Solomon Islander and half Australian, living in Brisbane with a full time job but with a strong passion for the Solomons and shouldering a powerful responsibility to support his family and community.  Brian is the private investor, visionary, social entrepreneur and emerging chocolatier.
Ronnie is a full Solomon Islander that is the brains and workhorse behind the premium quality cacao farming and production in Makira, learns anything new in seconds and has a burning desire to also improve the lives of his community in rural Makira, Solomon Islands.
Together we form Makira Gold, a formidable and aspirational partnership who aim to change the lives of rural Solomon Islanders.

Solomon Islands cacao and chocolate
Solomon Islands is an exciting new cacao source for specialty, single origin chocolate. A Solomon Islands cacao was awarded a prestigious International Cocoa Award at the Salon Du Chocolat in 2015 , and just a few months ago a Solomon Islands cacao took third prize in the competitive US NorthWest Chocolate Festival in 2016 with an exclusive single origin chocolate by Dick Taylor Chocolates.
The specialty chocolate market is a huge opportunity for Solomon Island cacao farmers, as it provides them with a much fairer price than the low price they currently get with the bulk chocolate market.
After 2 years hard work in the cacao business, we have identified the following barriers and challenges in establishing and making this specialty market pathway sustainable:
1) Cacao processing changes required - which means farmers moving from smoke drying cacao to sun drying or solar drying.
2) High shipping costs from the Pacific.
3) High production costs, particularly from farms outside of the main island of Guadalcanal, where intra-island shipping and travel expenses are high.
4) Cacao mould contamination in transit on intra-island shipping.
5) Lack of trusted relationships with international specialty cacao buyers.

Furthermore there are less than a dozen artisan bean-to-bar makers in Australia making single origin chocolate, and only a handful of them are using Solomon Island cacao beans. In the US and Europe, new artisan chocolate makers are appearing all the time, but those markets are supplied with cacao from North Africa and Central/South America, which has cheaper production and shipping costs.

We have decided to take matters into our own hands and address many of these barriers through creating Makira Gold, a new form of cacao enterprise, with Brian carrying most of the risk as a private investor.
Not only will we craft artisan chocolate from our beans but we will sell our cacao superfood products in the form of cacao nibs, snacking roasted cacao beans and eventually cacao butter and powder.
While we create our artisan chocolate business, we have also been selling our Makira Gold beans to other artisan chocolate makers, who have been crafting some beautiful bars .

Through creating this sustainable enterprise for Solomon Islands cacao, Solomon Islands children who live in these rural communities can afford to go to school fully clothed and equipped with stationery and books; women can earn an income and become empowered to be involved in community leadership and progress against significant gender inequality and gender-based violence; and communities get a powerful protective factor against the logging interests which are spoiling their rivers and streams.

Your support directly helps Solomon Island rural families.  There are no middle agents.  We are cacao farmers and we work directly with other cacao farmers in our district.

Our cacao farmers are smallholder farmers, which although is better at distributing wealth through a community than plantation farming, it comes with higher production costs.
Forty cacao farmers from our community have contributed their cacao beans to our first two shipments.  Their names are here.
We currently pay our farmers 50% more than the local price for cacao, which might not be much but is enough to help farmers and their families as we build our enterprise.

The Solomons like other South Pacific countries also suffers a significant disadvantage in that export costs are high due to the lack of international shipping.
The Solomons is an archipelago with nearly 1,000 islands.   So not only is international export expensive and limited, but so is intra-island shipping within the Solomons.
With all these challenges and barriers, little wonder that this is a tough bean to crack.
We have accomplished so much so far because we have carried all the risk and because it is a cause that we passionately believe in. 

Why do we need more support
We have faced many challenges in the two years we have been operating, even been told to give up as what we were doing was not feasible.  However we keep going forward - either with small wins or learning small lessons.
Amongst many other small achievements we have built cacao processing facilities in our village, upgraded community cacao processing techniques to meet the premium quality requirements for import into Australia, imported two shipments of over 300kg Makira cacao beans into Brisbane, been crafting chocolate using a chocolate melangeur and started to sell some very small amounts of cacao beans and nibs, including to other artisan chocolatiers across Australia.


This enterprise has to date been fully funded by Brian with some financial support from his brother and father-in-law.  But we now need some more support.  We need to keep paying our cacao farmers for raw cacao beans for the next 3 months and we need a chocolate tempering machine.

Sustainability
This enterprise will become sustainable.  The local price for raw cacao in the Solomons fluctuates between 60-80 cents (AUD) per kg, but in our shops in Australia we buy cacao products for $50/kg.  The Solomons is only 3 hours flying time away from Brisbane, Australia.
Even taking into account the processing required, this price differential alone is enough to realise that with minimal middle agents it can become self sustaining.
After some initial sales to artisan chocolatiers we are discussing further sales which means that although this wholesale channel has low margins, it is enough to be self sustaining in the future even without any retail sales.

We need $4,000 for the next steps to progress our enterprise in the Solomons and in Australia to do the following:
1) Give us enough capital to continue to buy raw cacao from our cacao farmers for the next 3 months, as we continue to become sustainable.
2) Help us to buy a chocolate tempering machine which means we can properly finish the artisan chocolate we have already made from our beans, so we can sell to you!  Our awesome and valued supporters and customers in Australia.
 
If we can raise more money than our target, then it means we can buy raw cacao from farmers beyond the next 3 months and it means that we might be able to get some more support in Brisbane to improve our marketing and packaging, and even look at producing cacao butter and cacao powder.

Although this campaign will help to pay for the raw cacao from our local farmers, Brian will continue to pay for salaries, export and import costs, as we continue to make the business sustainable.

Makira Earthquake December 2016
You may also have seen the news about the major earthquake measuring 7.8 that ocurred just off the coast of Makira on the 9th December, 2016.  A small tsunami swept away many of the houses in a small village only 3-4 hours walk away from our village.  Our village was not affected by the tsunami.
This terrible event has only increased our resolve to support our community in Makira by bringing our enterprise forward.  To date we have not seriously considered crowdfunding as we wanted to try to grow naturally within our means, however we have reached a point now that the longer we take, the more the opportunities that are missed by our community.
In particular with the start of the school year in 2017, we want to ensure that we are paying parents for cacao so they don't have reasons not to send their children to school such as not having enough money for books and clothes.

Please support our story, our farming communities and this new form of direct social enterprise in the Pacific.

Thanks so much so far
We have so many people to thank over the past 2 years, who support us in so many different ways.  Starting with the cacao farmers in Makira, Solomons cacao businessman and visionary Alick Pinihimae, specialist cacao and agricultural advisers in Honiara (Hannah Wheaton, Andrew Sale and others), artisan Chocolatiers (especially Nat Bletter and Dave Elliot from Madre Chocolate in Hawaii, David Cram from Sydney), all round awesome chocolatier and chef Jessica Pedemont from Sydney, my gran Gill Lycette and Aunt Liz Lycette for storing our beans in Liz' spare airconditioned bedroom at grans house, mentors Richard and Lockie, our co-investors (my father in law Roger and brother John), many for their advice including family Daniel and Andrea Kahler, all those in Australia who have bought our cacao products to date including bean to bar chocolatiers and of course our supportive wives and children.

To learn more about our story, see our website www.makiragold.com

Donations ()

  • Caleb Jarvis 
    • $2,700 
    • 30 mos
  • David Wissink 
    • $100 
    • 30 mos
  • Lawrence Hirst 
    • $100 
    • 32 mos
  • Bar Smith 
    • $100 
    • 32 mos
  • Jessica Pedemont 
    • $100 
    • 37 mos
See all

Organizer

Brian Atkin 
Organizer
Brookfield, QLD
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