The sight of workmen and ladders propped up against the wall, tools, smell of wet paint still drying on the walls and of course chickens greeted us as we approached the Chiko Farm office yesterday afternoon. Yes – rebuilding a business of this scale from square one is a huge challenge and the recovery phase is definitely going to take longer than four years.
“Prior cyclone Pam the farm was producing 18,000 eggs a day and 17,000 meat chicken per month,” Mr Thode recalled in his office after we made our way around the tools, keeping clear of the wet walls and past a very busy administration.
“Then we got hit by cyclone Pam, the damage is estimated in excess of Vt680 million. To date we have spent over Vt300 million to get to where we are today.”
This only covers the layers.
“We still have to do the abattoir, this will require approximately Vt400 million,” he said.
Mr Thode was overseas to visit his mother who was very ill at the time – two days before cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, but his wife was here.
“When cyclone Pam was forming, my brother called and told me our mother was dying,” he said. “I told him I can’t go because we have this monster cyclone coming but I went. Two days later the cyclone hit Vanuatu.”
He managed to get on an Air Vanuatu flight with journalists in Sydney so he first saw the extent of the damage when he looked out of the window as the aircraft was approaching Bauerfield airport.
“I saw the devastation everywhere, not knowing it was Chiko Farm then I saw what was left of the hatchery and then realized what I’m looking at. There was nothing left,” he said.
“After arrival, we got in the car and came straight to the farm.”
The foreign journalists went to the farm as well where they did numerous interviews with him.
“It is unfortunate that to this day we have never received any financial assistance,” he said. “But that hasn’t stopped me. We are doing it. I work here seven days a week. We need help, but we are building this place and we are going to make it right.
“The farm is now producing 25,000 fresh eggs a day – 7 days a week. Currently we have over 20 Ni-Vanuatu employees on the farm. Before cyclone Pam we employed 80 people.”
Mr Thode has been in the Pacific for 40 years in the engineering business, retired and came to Vanuatu, investing in the poultry industry. Chiko Farm was registered on the 1st of December 2011.
The Chiko Farm owner acknowledges his hardworking staff, especially Mrs Roslyn Garae, a long serving staff who was formerly employed at the Toa Farm and has been with Chiko Farm for almost a decade.