A small research trial is currently underway at the cocoa garden in Black Post, Solomon Islands, to test two simple solar driers to dry cocoa beans.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) with support from the AusAID-funded Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Project (CLIP) is testing simple designs for drying cocoa using only the heat of the sun.

CLIP showed that Solomon Islands can produce very good quality cocoa on par or better than that from PNG but a persistent problem is the presence of smoke in dried cocoa beans from the use of wood-fired cocoa driers without proper chimneys.

Moses Pelomo, the CLIP team leader explains;

"These simple solar drier designs are made using a roll of clear plastic, a roll of wire, a few nails, some timber and some stones. We have been testing them for a few weeks now and they are working very well. Daytime temperatures can get up to 50 degrees Celsius and stays at 30 degrees during the night. The key for cocoa is you need a slow drying, not too hot or the beans will roast".

On a recent field trip to inspect the solar driers, Scholar Aitora, from the Commodities Export Marketing Authority (CEMA) was very impressed.

"The driers are capable of getting the cocoa beans down to a moisture content of 6.5 percent, which is ideal for export. It is very important that we remove the smoke flavours from our cocoa to ensure it meets the market demand and the solar driers will be a big help in achieving this," said Scholar Aitora.

A feature of the new design is that it will cut out the significant costs of using firewood for drying cocoa. Once the testing is complete, the Ministry plans to produce fact sheets for farmers explaining how to construct the solar driers and costs involved.

Source: Press Release, Australian Aid, Solomon Islands