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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is funding the local cocoa planting project with more than 2,000 cocoa plants distributed to farmers island-wide, with plans to expand the program next year, and the goal of exporting this product to the U.S. and overseas markets.

The cocoa plant project was first publicly revealed during a meeting in July this year  between the local Department of Agriculture, the Chamber of Commerce and officials from the Indonesian government who are based in Washington D.C.

Agriculture director Lealao M. Purcell told the meeting that the goal is to have this product exported to U.S. markets, whose representatives have shown interest in purchasing from American Samoa.

Lealao told Samoa News last week that this project, funded with more than $200,000 from USDA, is doing quite well as cocoa plants have been distributed to local farmers. He also says that local cocoa will be exported off island to make chocolate products.

The Agriculture director was responding to Samoa News inquiries after the department’s fourth quarter performance report for fiscal year 2012, which ended on Sept. 30, 2012 provided  the latest information on this project.

The performance report states that 2,122 cocoa plants have been planted at different farmlands on Tutuila, and due to this project, there will be a continuation of more lands used to grow cocoa plants in the next fiscal year.

Data in the report shows that Sili Sataua has 582 cocoa plants for his farm in Fagasa followed by Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson with 396 plants on his land in Fagasa and 184 cocoa plants on his land in Pago Pago.

Additionally, 200 cocoa plants each are planted at Tuilefano Vaela’a farmland in Malaeloa; “Keniseli” in Vaitogi; and Duke Purcell in Tafeta. The data also shows that 150 cocoa plants each are planted at Mua Soli Ofoia farmland in Vaitogi and Lelei Peau land in Malaeimi, while Peleti Sakaria has 60 cocoa plants at his Fagali’i farm land.

Lealao said the department is happy that more cocoa plants have been planted as the government moves towards providing a new economic development product for the territory.

He said the department is pushing for local residents to become cocoa farmers so that there is a different type of farming in the territory besides the usual plantations of taro, bananas and vegetables.

Samoa News understands that the success of cocoa farming, which has been supported and pushed since the beginning of the year by Gov. Togiola Tulafono, depends on the initial farmers being given the cocoa plants.

During the July meeting with the Chamber and officials of the Indonesian government, Lealao said American Samoa has been given a guarantee from off-island partners that in five years time, U.S. buyers will be coming to the territory for their cocoa purchase, and this is exciting for American Samoa.

And if there is a shortage of cocoa locally, American Samoa can seek supplies from Samoa to be brought here for processing before exporting cocoa to the U.S., said Lealao.

As previously reported by Samoa News, cocoa trees were once in abundance in American Samoa especially in Tualauta county, where a large section is still called KoKoland. However, the vast majority of these cocoa trees have long disappeared as land there was used to build homes and other structures to accommodate an increasing population.

The development of cocoa as an export in the territory also coincides with the push for the ‘ulu’ or breadfruit to become a local export, with an Ulu Summit held in December, during the week of this year’s Miss South Pacific Pageant.

The summit discussed not only production, but partnerships with different Pacific islands to process their product in American Samoa before exporting to the U.S. The advantage would be to allow the product to be labeled as ‘made in America’ (much like the tuna processed in the two canneries in the territory). It was noted during the summit that such partnerships are necessary because of the large quantities of product that are needed to make exporting financially viable.

Samoa News reporters Ausage Fausia and Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.