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Solomon Airlines celebrates local cargo partnerships on International Day of Rural Women

Posted on October 15, 2021 at 08:00 AM in General News

Women are the key to growth in Solomon Islands' expanding Cocoa industry

Photo: Mrs. Faustina Zoto, Managing Director of Happy Cocoa Enterprises


Solomon Airlines has highlighted the role of women in Solomon Islands' Cocoa industry, to mark 2021 ‘International Day for Rural Women’ which this year has a theme placing focus on “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All.

International Day of Rural Women is supported by UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This year the milestone highlights the crucial role of rural women around the world, in enhancing agriculture, rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty.

With over 80 percent of Solomon Islands women living in rural areas, and many communities now involved in cocoa farming, women are increasingly important in this industry.

Solomon Airlines established ‘export incentive’ partnerships to nurture local produce exports, and shares the stories of two leading female cacao industry producers and their experience leading other women to develop farms, incomes, knowledge, and new opportunities for themselves and future generations.

Happy Cocoa Enterprises

Photo: Happy Cocoa Enterprises, children carrying wet cocoa beans.


Faustina Zoto and her business partner, Agnes Votaia hailed from Central Guadalcanal, and started a cacao buying business in 2017, buying mostly wet and dried beans.  Today their business ‘Happy Cocoa Enterprises’ has 10 employees.

“Choosing cocoa wasn’t a hard decision for us, as it was plentiful around,” she added.

“Our suppliers to date, have grown from Central Guadalcanal farmers at the start, to now nearly all the constituencies in Guadalcanal Province. 

Most of the communities Happy Cocoa Enterprises works with are supported by subsistence farmers whose major sources of income are derived from selling mainly vegetables at the central market in Honiara, a task that is mainly carried out by women and children.

“The other major industries in these areas are oil palm and copra but these are hard jobs mostly men are involved in,” said Ms. Zoto.

To provide equal opportunities to women and children, Happy Cocoa Enterprises is embarking on an ambitious plan over the next five years to support at least 10 women cocoa farmers within the Central Guadalcanal region, to own one hectare of cocoa farmland each, including with their own fermenting facilities.

"Achieving that will enable our women farmers to each produce a one metric ton harvest, resulting in attaining one container per month for exports instead of selling just a few kilograms per harvest.

“We are supporting them to maximise their income,” she said.

Since Happy Cocoa Enterprises started its business five years ago, the founders have been pleased to see some of their suppliers already able to expand their farms.

“We have given free training to them, on how to manage their farms better to increase their yields and gain more income,” Ms. Zoto explained.

“Others have gone on to start small income-generating activities in their respective communities like setting up canteens and cake shops,” she said.

“We understand that women are caregivers by nature and already, we are seeing the flow-on impacts women farmers are making for others in their communities. Some women farmers are now able to send their children to school, some have built family homes and proper sanitation for their families.

“To involve more women in rural communities in such operations, education is key.

“Most of our women farmers are not so educated, so we have encouraged them to send their children to school whilst they continue with their farming activities.

“In the short term, we are also urging the responsible authorities to expand awareness and education among rural women as to their rights to participate in the development of our country.

“We believe that women should be equal partners in whatever sphere we can look at but the disparity in our community is quite telling.

“Our Solomon Islands women are not equally represented in the formal economy due to our reliance on subsistence agriculture and traditional beliefs about women’s roles.

“However, if more and more women gain confidence to be involved in business activities as we are, we believe there will be a major shift in the general standard of living within the family circle as well as across the country as a whole,” she said.


Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation

Photo: Ms. Agnes Pilopaso, Managing Director of Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation.


Agnes Pilopaso, Managing Director of Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation agrees.

“I left school in 2003 as a form 3 leaver due to my family’s inability to support me financially to further my education,” she said.

“Experiencing that hardship first hand, I embarked on cocoa tree planting with the sole purpose of ensuring that what I had gone through, as the only child in the family, must not be experienced by my own offspring.

Now married with three children, Agnes has not regretted her decision to venture into the cocoa business. From selling her cocoa dried and wet beans to local exporters, she made her breakthrough in 2015 when she was recognised for her entrepreneurship abilities, and was presented with a “Women in Business Award” by the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands.

This was followed by another award in 2016 during the Solomon Islands Cocoa and Chocolate Festival “SolChoc” which enabled her to acquire processing equipment to grow her business.

Today her company employs 38 local people – 16 women and 22 men and supplies high-quality dried cocoa beans to niche markets in Samoa and New Zealand.

For local markets, Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation also produces cocoa powder, chocolate, cocoa soap, cocoa nips for cooking and baking, and cocoa tea. The majority of farmers who collaborated with Ms. Pilopaso to form the Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation are women (85%).

“I’m proud that women have taken the initiative to venture into income-generating activities despite the challenges and expectations of traditional beliefs and practices.

“Women in the rural areas form the largest portion of our country’s female population, but very little attention is paid to empowering them to participate in the economic development of our country.

“They live on more than 80% of the country’s arable land and if they are able to participate in agricultural activities such cocoa, or other farming ventures, our country should be self-reliant not only in terms of food production but should also be able to stem the imbalance on imports vs exports,” she said.

Tupughotua Cocoa Plantation was also one of the 23 grantees awarded an Innovation Grant Facility (IGF) under the ‘Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands’ project.

The grant enabled the company to provide capacity-building training for 100 farmers on subject areas including Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM), best practices on fermentation and drying quality beans, and quality food and safety training on cocoa powder and chocolate.

"As well as practical training in farming and production, I also support my farmers with mentoring and best business practices, and I am collaborating with Financial Institutions such as Central Bank of Solomon Islands and Ezi Pei by Solomon Post to provide awareness in financial literacy.

“I aim to support my member farmers so they will be able to manage their incomes better and to save for the future. By sharing with them the adversities I have gone through, to be where I am today, I hope to inspire a lot of women in my communities in North Guadalcanal.

“From a few farmers joining in the beginning, now we have 164 smallholder farmers participating, and the difference it has brought to our communities is quite profound.

“Some have now built a decent home for their families, proper sanitation and most importantly they are meeting their children’s education and health needs.

“We know that education, without doubt, is key to empowerment of women.

“From their rights to free enterprise, freedom of speech, and right to education, these will help sway the balance for equal participation in the Solomon Islands, and that is good for the overall development of our country,” she said.


Solomon Airlines ‘Export Incentive’ cargo rates to Australia extended

Photo: Happy Cocoa Enterprises


Solomon Airlines is also proactively working with cacao producers to expand their export market volumes. The airline’s ‘Export Incentive’ discounts, announced earlier this year have proven popular with cacao and cocoa product exporters. 

The initiative is aimed at encouraging more Solomon Islands businesses to utilise air freight space on the national carrier’s Airbus A320 flights from Honiara to Brisbane, Australia.

Heavily discounted ‘Export Incentive’ cargo rates are offered on all flights from Honiara to Brisbane now until the end of December 2021. Discounts range from 10% for up to 250kgs to up to 68% for businesses wishing to transport a tonne or more of cargo, from as low as SBD$4 a kilo.

“Our Export Incentive rates are a way for us to help stimulate export business and our economy by assisting industries within the Solomon Islands,” said Colin Sigimanu, Commercial Manager for Solomon Airlines.

“With international borders closed, we understand that many businesses are looking for cost-effective ways to continue to export their products, and we are aiming to support them,” he said.

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